Nobel Prize Award for Physiology and Medicine 1901 - 1905

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine from 1901 to 1905 including Ross, Pavlov, and Finsen, what they won for, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.


1901 Emil A. von Behring (1854-1917), German. Work: Treatment of diseases, especially diphtheria, through use of antitoxins. Behind the Award--Also considered for the prize in 1901 were Joseph Lister, who introduced antiseptics to the operating room, and Robert Koch, pioneer in bacteriology.

1902 Ronald Ross (1857-1932), British. Work: Research into the transmission of malaria by the mosquito.

Behind the Award--A young military surgeon, Ross was able to prove what other scientists had suspected--that a certain type of mosquito spread malaria. At the time, Ross was working in India. His plans for doing research with human beings were stymied by the natives, who wanted nothing to do with inoculation. So he switched to studying birds, and was able to prove that the Culex mosquito was the culprit in transmission of bird malaria. His discovery spurred mosquito control through such methods as swamp drainage.

1903 Niels R. Finsen (1860-1904), Danish. Work: Use of concentrated light rays to treat skin diseases, especially lupus vulgaris (skin tuberculosis).

Behind the Award--Watching a cat sunning itself in the street gave Niels Finsen the idea that light rays had healing properties. During his lifetime, he treated over 2,000 people, including himself, using this therapy. When he received the prize, he was in a wheelchair, doomed to die within the year. He tried to give his prize money to his smallpox institute, but his friends persuaded him to keep half for his family. They matched his gift to the institute to make up the difference.

1904 Ivan P. Pavlov (1849-1936), Russian. Work: Study of gastric juice secretions in the digestive system.

Behind the Award--Pavlov, the only Russian to win a Nobel Prize under the Czars, was the man who, in his famous experiment where he induced dogs to salivate at a nonfood stimulus, discovered conditioned reflexes. This discovery had tremendous impact on the development of psychology. However, Pavlov did not receive the award for this epochmaking experiment, but for other work he did on the physiology of digestion.

1905 Robert Koch (1843-1910), German. Work: Discovery of the bacillus which causes tuberculosis.

Behind the Award--The biggest fiasco in Nobel history. Koch was on his way to discovering a serum, tuberculin, to combat tuberculosis. Kaiser Wilhelm II got Koch nominated for the Nobel Prize. Impressed, the Nobel judges gave Koch the prize for tuberculin. Six months later, Koch's cure began to kill. The serum proved imperfect, and the Nobel medicine judges were condemned as fools.

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