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Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Prize’

I had the opportunity to visit Sweden last month to attend a management program on Corporate Responsibility. It was an amazing experience. My most memorable experience was the visit to the Nobel Museum at Stockholm. We were lucky to have a very well informed guide. Let me narrate to you a cute story that I heard there. You see the chair below. There is a tradition that after the Nobel dinner the prize winner who signs behind the chair. Once there is no more space for signatures it is bought to the Nobel Museum.

There was one chair in the Museum which was kept locked in a glass case. We thought it belonged to a famous prize winner.

It turned out that this chair had the signature of Koichi Tanaka, a Chemistry Noble prize winner from Japan. He was only a salaried engineer with just a bachelor’s degree. He was not a PhD like most other winners. In fact, he is the first recipient of the chemistry prize with only a bachelor’s degree. He is very famous in Japan because of his unlikely achievement. All the tourist from Japan were insisting on sitting on this chair and taking a picture. They were not even interested in Einstein’s chair as much as this one. The chair was showing signs of breaking because of the demand and hence they decided to protect it in a  glass case.

Here are some more picture from the Museum

A brief about all the prize winner till date is hung a clothes line near the entrance of the Museum.

The hand written will of Alfred Nobel.  According to the guide the most revolutionary aspect of the will was the clause that the prize should be awarded without consideration of nationality. At the time it was written, it was very controversial since many swedes felt that Nobel was giving away his wealth to other countries. But it was this very same clause that made the prize so prestigious.

Inscriptions on the floor of the Museum

Me and our guide in front of Nobel’s will

Quotes by Nobel winners on the walls of the Museum

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Last year I went on a trip to Rameshwaram, which is an island in the south of India. It is a very important pilgrimage center, famous for an ancient Shiva temple believed to have been built by Lord Rama. We had to get to the town via a bridge built across the ocean. The sea looked so beautiful from there. I have never seen so many colors in the ocean. It varied from Aquamarine green to deep blue.

pamban-palam.jpg

It reminded me of the great Indian scientist Sir C.V.Raman who got the inspiration for his Nobel Prize winning theory as he observed the deep blue of Mediterranean Sea from the deck of his ship. I thought I should write about him.  

Before Raman propounded his theory it was believed that the sea was blue because it reflected the blue of the sky. Raman observed that the Mediterranean appeared blue even when the sky was dull gray. After extensive research in his laboratory in India he found that the color of the sea changes because of a phenomenon called inelastic scattering of light. Why is the sky blue? Because it scatters the blue light more than any other wavelength. A similar phenomenon occurs in ocean. However in addition to scattering the light , the molecules of the water absorb some energy from the light. A lower energy light radiation is emitted and thus color of the sea changes. It is not identical to the color of the sky. It can easily be understood through quantum theory. Photons of higher energy are absorbed and lower energy are released by the molecules. If you look at the picture above, the color varies directly proportional to the depth of the sea. I think it is because, in deeper areas of the sea there are more water molecules and hence more energy loss and those areas appear green (green is of lower frequency and hence lower energy photons)whereas the in the shallower regions the energy loss in less hence it is blue.  

Raman also found that this loss of energy or shift in wavelength is dependant on the medium. Hence it was possible to study the molecules of the medium and the structural arrangement by passing light through it. Raman won the Nobel prize in physics for his finding. Today, Raman Effect is considered to be one of the four major discoveries in experimental physics of the early twentieth century.  

What is even more commendable about his finding is that it happened in his laboratory in India. He did not have sophisticated instruments or technology which was available to the western scientist of his times. In fact he did not have the money to buy a light source, so conducted his experiments using sunlight. He is believed to have said “The essence of science is independent thinking and hard work, not equipment 

Till he died, Raman continued to do research, give talks and inspire students. During his life he wrote 360 research papers and four books. He founded schools of physics in Kolkata and Bangalore. To mark the anniversary of the discovery of Raman effect, Feb 28th  is celebrated as “National Science Day” all over India. 

Footnote: In my library I have a book series called Charitravali, which are biographies dedicated to great people of India. I have written about these books in this blog. The Charitravali series also has the biography of C.V Raman, “The Scientist Extraordinary by Dilip.M.Salwi” ,which I used as a reference for this post. The entire series is a great read. I strongly recommend it to all my readers.  

Update:  Here is Priya’s explaination for the varying color of sea

The deeper the sea, the bluer it will be. Shallow water appears a lighter shade of blue or green. Yellow, Red, Green etc are absorbed first. The amount of organic debris in the water impacts the color. The deader it is (little or no organic debris or life-forms) the bluer it is.

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There were few pleasant surprises for me in Nobel Prizes front, this year. First, Al Gore won the Nobel Prize for Peace. I know many people feel it is not at all deserved. As a lover of trees and a person concerned about global warming, I was gratified. I was hoping, it will give an additional impetus to all those fighting to save the planet.

 

I did not know much about the other winners, until my colleague sent me this link which talked about Prof. Eric Maskin, one of the Nobel Prize winner for Economics and the research he was doing on the impact of patents on innovation. He says when discoveries are sequential in nature (ie each successive invention is built on its predecessor), society and even inventors themselves may be better off without such patent protection. He gives the example of Software Industry, which is by nature is highly innovative and although there have been good number of imitations; it has not had a severely negative effect on the industry.

 

First, I found this a paradigm shift from the accepted notion that patents support innovation by encouraging companies to invest in research. Secondly, being from the software industry, I often experience the power of open source software and how it can transform technology and society.  So I looked for the original research paper and found it on the net (Sequential innovations, Patents and Imitations). The paper is authored by James Bessen and Eric Maskin. Do read the paper; it not only has very good examples, but even complex sets of equations which prove that imitations may promote innovations and patents inhibit it, in industries where innovation is sequential and complimentary. Certain facts that caught my attention

 

1)      As patent protection become more stringent in software industry, the firms that acquired most of these patents reduced their R&D spend  relative to sale

2)      Adobe put Postscript and PDF format in public domain inviting other firms to be direct competitors for some of its products

3)      CISCO regularly contribute patented technology to industry standards bodies

4)      IBM and several other firms have donated number of patents for free use by open source developers. The stated reason for these donations was to build the overall ecosystem.

 

The equations, of course went way over my head. But the overall premise of the paper was, in such industries copyright achieves better results than patent protection. This does not hold good for, what they call ‘Static Environment’. The term is not clearly defined in the paper. I assume it refers to industries such as pharmaceuticals and cars.

 

I was reminded of my, FLOSS crazy friend Prem, who used gave a new twist to the term ‘free’ used in the context of open source tools. He said it stands for freedom. Recently someone told me about a book called The Long Tail which was written entirely on the net and feedback from the readers was incorporated before it was published. It went on to become a best seller. It is nice to know that openness could provide competitive advantage.

 

The Vice Chairman of my company, who is also the Chairman of NASSCOM told us this story during a meeting. There was once corn farmer, who always produced the best corn. Someone asked him, what was the secret of his success. He said, he always shared his best seeds with other farmers. Now this sounds very counterintuitive, how can you be the best when you share your best with others. He said, “Cross pollination happens continuously from the surrounding farms. If their produce is of inferior quality my crop will definitely be inferior. When I share my best seeds with my neighbors, I compete with the best. So I always stay competitive”.

 

Nice thought, isn’t it? It is my hope that one day we will see the benefits of openness and sharing in all walks of life.

 

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