Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry 1949 to 1951

About the Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry from 1949 to 1951 including the scientists Giauque and Seaborg, their works, and history.


1949 William F. Giauque (1895- ), American (b. Canada)

Work: Investigated the behavior of substances at extremely low temperatures

Nobel Laureate: Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, of American parents, Giauque matriculated to the University of California at Berkeley in 1915 and liked it so much that he spent his entire professional career on that campus. Only W.W. II pulled him away from Berkeley briefly. Not one to flit from one project to another, Giauque from graduate school to retirement concentrated his talents on the field of cryogenics. For three decades he studied the effects of cold temperatures in a cramped two-room laboratory. His discoveries on the road to absolute zero have enabled industry to turn out more efficient fuels, more durable rubber and steel, higher-quality glass, and less expensive fertilizer. A compulsive worker, the 6 ft. 1 in., 200-lb. scientist often hovered over his complex of compressors and pipes for two straight days without sleep. Somehow he found time to produce several dozen scientific papers, although he resented interrupting his research to do so. His wife, the former Muriel Ashley, was a physicist. His infrequent breaks from the lab found him swimming or watching a football game. He still resides in Berkeley.

Nobel Lore: Commenting on his $30,000 prize, Giauque said, "I certainly didn't expect it, but I'll take good care of it."

1950 Otto P. H. Diels (1876-1954), German Kurt Alder (1902-1958), German

Work: Developed a way to synthesize organic compounds of the diene group

1951 Edwin M. McMillan (1907- ), American

Glenn T. Seaborg (1912- ), American

Work: Discoveries related to the transuranium elements

Nobel Laureates: Born in Redondo Beach, Calif., McMillan became a physicist and, from 1932 until his retirement in 1973, taught and conducted research at the University of California at Berkeley, except during W.W. II, when he helped set up the atomic labs at Los Alamos, N.M. In 1940 he and P. H. Abelson produced the first transuranium element and named it neptunium, after the next planet beyond Uranus. Shortly thereafter, he and Seaborg discovered and named plutonium (after the next planet beyond Neptune), the first isotope of which is an efficient atomic fuel. McMillan later developed the synchrotron to supersede the cyclotron, and for this he shared the 1963 Atoms for Peace Award with a Soviet physicist who had come up with the same idea independently.

Seaborg was born in Ishpeming, Mich., the son of a Swedish immigrant machinist, and grew up near Los Angeles. As a fruit picker and longshoreman, the 6 ft. 3 in. youth worked his way through U.C.L.A. and the University of California at Berkeley, where he remained as a chemistry instructor. After discovering plutonium with McMillan, Seaborg joined the Manhattan Project, charged with the task of producing enough plutonium to fire up the first atomic bomb. He discovered several other transuranium elements, which together formed a unique series of elements. After the war he rejoined the staff of the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, rising to director in 1954. Four years later he abandoned research to become chancellor of the entire university. In 1961 President Kennedy made him the first scientist to head the Atomic Energy Commission. He played a key role in the 1963 Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. After a decade in Washington, he returned to Berkeley. A golfing and hiking enthusiast, he resides in Lafayette, Calif.

Nobel Lore: The Berkeley Radiation Laboratory has turned out so many Nobel laureates that there has arisen a tradition, beginning with McMillan, of passing on a white vest to the most recent prizewinner, who must wear the garment to the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm.

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