The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2008

Two Americans, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien and one Japanese scientist, Osamu Shimomura, share this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on green fluorescent protein (GFP). This is a protein, first found in jellyfish that glows green under ultraviolet light. This allows the tracking of particular cells, such as cancer cells, or nerve cells providing a window onto many biological processes.

This work has been applied in many ways and has given insight into the damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, the growth of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas of an embryo, the development of brain cells, the growth of bacteria and many other biological phenomena.

Once again, however, I am amazed at how old this work is and how long it took the Nobel Committee to recognize it. Shimomura and a colleague first observed GFP in 1962, having extracted it from 10,000 jellyfish. They reported, that year, that it glowed green under UV.

Thirty years later, Chalfie used the GFP gene to make individual nerve cells in a tiny worm glow green (allowing the development of its nervous system to be studied). Tsien then extended the work to include a variety of colours, allowing more detailed studies to take place.

Thus, this work has it beginnings 46 years ago. It took basically a lifetime to recognize it. Shimomura could so easily have died of old age waiting for his Nobel Prize. This, of course, poses the question: could and should Nobel Prizes be awarded more swiftly? The original intention of Nobel himself was that this would be so and that young researchers would thereby win support for their work and find their careers facilitated. What is happening instead, however, is that old researchers, many of whom will have ceased any real productive work, are receiving Nobel Prizes for an achievement of their early careers perhaps forty or fifty years before. It is not in the spirit of Nobel's original intentions that this should be so.

What I would like to see is a Nobel Prize being awarded for something that took place only a couple of years ago - not something that began before I was even born. That is too, too long to wait for recognition of the standing of one's work.

Perhaps this dilatoriness arises out of an inability to recognize the long-term importance of recent work. Well, that could be remedied by a little imagination. Perhaps, however, it is caution that dominates the Nobel Committee's decisions - a wish to be really sure of the merits of particular work before recognizing it - hence the sloth of their decision making and the fact that many potential winners die of old age before they can win.

Nevertheless, congratulations to the winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2008. Patience was certainly required in the winning of it, however.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:57 PM 


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