NOTE: You may have noticed that 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kay Miller is the only medal recipient not portrayed here. For the life of me, I can’t find a photo of her. If anybody has one, or knows where I can find one, let me know!
The internet was abuzz this week with news that the Nobel Prize medal awarded to Francis Crick for the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA is up for auction by The Crick Family Trust. I spoke to Kindra Crick, at first merely to get permission to reproduce some of her artwork for this post, but discovered that the NPR article I had linked to previously was not entirely accurate.
Crick had this to say to clear up any possible misconceptions:
The choice to make the Nobel available came after careful consideration of the options by my family. The family would have liked to have kept the medal. That not only would be immensely complicated, but the medal would continue to be locked up out of sight. (It has been locked up for 50 years now).
We are very optimistic that the institutions and individuals who will bid on this unique part of science history will have the resources to make it available for public display and not keep it locked up—as we were told has happened after Linus Pauling donated his two Nobel medals to Oregon State University.
A portion of the proceeds will go to fund ground-breaking scientific research, and the amount we are donating to The Francis Crick Institute will likely be more than the Nobel Prize amount awarded to my granddad in 1962 in today’s dollars. The Crick, as they call it in the UK, has an impressive vision and is set to be the biggest center for biomedical research and innovation in Europe.
The family has made sure his research has been preserved. If you are interested in seeing any of Francis Crick’s scientific papers (drafts, scribbles and all). They are being well looked after by The Wellcome Trust, who have made copies and made them available in person and online.
Similarly, while the original joke in the comic was not meant to mischaracterize her or the Crick family, it was beginning to make even me uneasy* and I gladly altered it.
Nobel medals, which used to be made out of solid gold, have popped up throughout history as a symbol of prestige and wealth. The money from selling one could aid a cause of the recipient’s choice, and refusing one sends a strong political message. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte and revolutionary and diplomat Le Duc Tho are among those who voluntarily refused the prize.
During World War 2, it became necessary to hide yo gold, hide yo kids, cause the Nazis are killing everybody out here. At the time, Copenhagen, Denmark was home to three Nobel prize winners and two medals (Bohr had previously sold his). In a story of brilliant scientific ingenuity, the two medals were dissolved in nitro-hydrochloric acid, and successfully hidden from the invading Nazi army. There is no better depiction of this event, nor a better punchline, than exists in my favorite Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic.
Also, check out aqua regia in action below, brought to you by the Periodic Table of Videos:
For me, the cooler news was that Kindra Crick is a fellow artist—a scientist/artist at that. Her work combines painting, printmaking, and bookmaking with a passion for scientific inquiry, and it’s really marvelous, detail stuff. From her bio:
Crick’s interest in both science and art has been a constant in her life. Her grandfather was a biologist, while her grandmother painted the female form and encouraged her to paint at an early age. Crick was involved with the visual arts department while attending Princeton University, where she graduated with a degree in Molecular Biology. She studied painting with Philip Hanson at Ox-Bow, an artist residency in Saugatuck, MI. In 2006, she received a Certificate in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then moved to Portland, Oregon.
Pretty awesome. You can check out Kindra’s work on her website.
Oh, hey! The first episode of StripSearch is up! I’m going to watch it tonight with the cast and crew, so please—no spoilers in the comments! Thanks, and enjoy!
*I explained it a bit to my Facebook fans. The first version of the comic contained a third panel where Kindra added, “Also, have you seen the economy? That medal wasn’t exactly up in the attic paying bills.”
I rarely shy away from giving somebody a good ribbing, and you can look at any of our Neil deGrasse Tyson comics for examples. But when I portray Neil as a heartless villain who likes to make children cry, it’s funny because everybody knows that he’s the complete opposite—it’s an exercise in absurdity.
The problem with the joke at Kindra’s expense was that despite her cheerful demeanor and working in the interests of science, all the news outlets were reporting the auction as “Woman Selling Nobel Prize Medal for Monies!!!11″ and my joke read more like criticism in that context.