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Those Who Benefit Mankind – Happy Nobel Prize Day (10th December)

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Happy Nobel Prize Day 10th December PetroStrat

What is Nobel Prize Day?

Nobel Prize Day is celebrated every December 10th to honour the achievements of Alfred Bernhard Nobel, a Swedish engineer, chemist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. After his death in 1896, he donated his “remaining realisable assets” to establish five prizes to award “those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to Mankind.” The five separate prizes are awarded in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. Today, everyone has heard of the Nobel Prize!  

Notable geoscience Nobel Prize recipients

Arthur holmes in 1912 Vetlesen Prize winning geoscientist

Now obviously Alfred Nobel didn’t have his priorities straight when he decided not to include Geoscience on this short list. However, to his defence, major discoveries such as, the internal structure of the Earth, sea-floor spreading or the magnetic reversal time scale wasn’t discovered until the 20th century!   

Fortunately, the Vetlesen Prize was established in 1959 and is generally regarded as the highest distinction in geologic studies and the “Nobel Prize of the Earth sciences”. The prize is awarded for scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relations to the universe. The prize also includes a cash reward of $250,000! One notable recipient was Arthur Holmes, who in his 1913 book ‘The Age of the Earth’, proposed the first geological time scale, based on the fairly recently discovered phenomenon of radioactivity. Holmes estimated the Earth was 4 billion years old, which was far older than anyone had suggested until then, and very close to how old we believe the Earth is today. So as stratigraphers, we have a lot to thank Arthur Holmes for. 

Have any palaeontologist won a Nobel Prize?

Zhouornis hani fossil from China CC BY 4 0 Zhang et al 2014
Zhouornis hani fossil from China CC BY 4 0 Zhang et al 2014

However, for palaeontologists the ultimate prize is to have a fossil named after you. Not many palaeontologists get the opportunity to name a species and even fewer have species named after them. Palaeontologists can name a new species if they find a fossil that is distinct from any known others.

For example, Zhouornis hani is a large Mesozoic bird from China that was named after the Chinese palaeontologist Zhou Zhonghe. The decision was made by the team of researchers who discovered the fossil to name the new species after Zhou Zhonghe as a way of recognising the significant contributions he has made to the early evolution of birds.  

At PetroStrat we’re lucky enough to have two people who have named a species after them;

Now we just need to find that Vetlesen Prize! 

References and further reading

Brazil Aerial Coastline

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