The magnificent four who repeated Nobel

By Elena Sanz

If receiving a Nobel Prize is the highest recognition for a scientist, being awarded twice by the Swedish Academy of Sciences is an extraordinary fact that, so far, only four people can boast: Frederick Sanger, Linus Pauling, John Bardeen and Marie Curie.

Marie Curie

Marie CurieThe first person in history to achieve the feat of receiving a double Nobel was the Polish Marie Skłodowska Curie, laureate first in Physics and, later, in Chemistry. What few know is that she was about to not receive the first of the awards. And it is that in 1903, the French Academy of Sciences proposed only Henri Becquerel and Pierre Curie as candidates for the Nobel Prize in Physics. Outraged to learn of the nomination, the mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler warned Pierre, and he was emphatic in his response: "If it is true that someone is thinking of me [for the Nobel Prize], I would like to be considered along with Madame Curie for our work in radioactive bodies […] his part is very large in this discovery (he has also determined the atomic weight of radium)”, he wrote in a letter.

After pulling some strings, Marie was added to the candidacy. And in December 1903, the three scientists (Becquerel and the Curie couple) were awarded the prestigious award. In the mention of the Curies, their discovery of polonium and radium was voluntarily excluded, since the chemists of the nominating committee insisted that it deserved a future Nobel Prize in Chemistry..

So it was. Curie's second prize came on December 10, 1911, although, following Pierre's death in 1906 in an unfortunate traffic accident, this time it fell to Marie alone. As the experts had already anticipated, she was awarded "for her contribution to the advancement of chemistry with the discovery of radium and polonium", two elements that were much more radioactive than uranium (the first known radioactive element).

Linus Pauling

Linus PaulingThe only two-time winner of a Nobel Prize not shared with anyone has been Linus Pauling. The first award, the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, recognized his research on the nature of the chemical bond. And eight years later, his militant pacifism during the Cold War, focused above all on combating nuclear weapons, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize (1962).

A dominant figure in 20th-century chemistry, this American scientist revolutionized the way we view molecules by applying quantum mechanics to chemistry. In addition, he thoroughly studied hydrogen bonding, proteins and their folding, as well as getting to know like the back of his hand the structure and function of hemoglobin in red blood cells that transport oxygen from the blood.

At the end of the 1940s, frightened by the danger that a nuclear war would pose to humanity, he drafted a call to end atomic bomb tests, arguing among other things that the radioactive fallout from each underground test would cause thousands of deaths. cancer cases. And he gathered signatures from more than 8,000 foreign scientists from 49 different countries. His campaign culminated when the First Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was opened for signature in 1963.

John Bardeen

John BardeenThat today we can listen to the latest musical hits on a radio, watch television, talk on a mobile phone or comfortably browse the Internet using computers and tablets, we owe it largely to John Bardeen, the only scientist in history who He has repeated the Nobel Prize in the category of Physics.

He was an electronic engineer, a career that began when he was only 15 years old, although he later obtained a doctorate in Physics from Princeton University. And there he began to study the atomic structure and the properties of semiconductors, that is, materials that allow the passage of electric current under certain conditions and not under others. A few years later he landed at Bell Laboratories where, together with Walter Brattain, he developed the transistor, which came to replace vacuum tubes in countless electronic devices, from hearing aids to televisions. This invention led them to win the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics together with William B. Shockley.

From semiconductors, Bardeen made the leap to the study of superconductors, materials that conduct current without resistance or loss of energy. And it was the current theoretical model of superconductivity, the BCS (where B stands for John Bardeen), that led him to win his second Nobel Prize in 1972.

Frederick Sanger

The fourth person, and so far the last, to join the club of double Nobels was Frederick Sanger, a biochemistry enthusiast who succeeded in determining the amino acid sequence of a protein. He chose none other than insulin, the key hormone in the regulation of glucose metabolism, and for his feat he won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His detailed description of the links that make up the chemical chain of insulin allowed, later, in 1963, this was the first protein synthesized in the laboratory, something that diabetics will be forever grateful for.

Not content with that, in 1980 he repeated the award in the same category for developing a method to read DNA, laying the first link for the study of the human genome. In fact, it was he who determined the base sequence of nucleic acids (adenine, guanine, uracil and cytosine), the letters with which the Book of Life is written.


In addition to the four double-awarded scientists, there are two institutions that have received several awards from the Swedish Academy. The first is the Red Cross, an international humanitarian institution that has so far won three Nobel Peace Prizes. One less has UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

And speaking of records in relation to these awards, we must remember that the Curies are not only famous for Marie's double award. The first and second generation of this family accumulate no less than four Nobel prizes in science (her first daughter Irène Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for the discovery of artificial radioactivity, also together with her husband) .

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