The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded this year to three American scientists who solved a problem of cell biology with deep relevance to cancer and aging. The three will receive equal shares of a prize worth around $1.4 million.
The recipients solved a longstanding puzzle involving the ends of chromosomes, the giant molecules of DNA that embody the genetic information. These ends, called telomeres, get shorter each time a cell divides and so serve as a kind of clock that counts off the cell’s allotted span of life.The three winners are Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Jack W. Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital.
The two other 2009 hard science Nobels are not out yet, but this announcement reflects an on-going trend in which the top female scientific talent is concentrating in the life sciences and leaving the lifeless sciences, physics and chemistry, to the boys.
Here's a list of all female winners (keep in mind that there have been more multiple winners in recent years -- in other words, it's gotten easier to be a Nobel Laureate in recent years because prizes are more often fractured):
1903 - Marie Curie
1963 - Maria Goeppert-Mayer
1911 - Marie Curie
1935 - Irène Joliot-Curie
1964 - Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
Physiology or Medicine
1947 - Gerty Cori
1977 -Rosalyn Yalow
1983 - Barbara McClintock
1986 - Rita Levi-Montalcini
1988 - Gertrude B. Elion
1995 - Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard
2004 - Linda B. Buck
2008 - Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
2009 - Carol W. Greider
This strikes me as healthy: women specializing in what they (and I, as a beneficiary of medical science) find most important. Of course, in the wake of the 2005 Larry Summers brouhaha, vast amounts of money are being spent to lure women scientists away from the life sciences and into the inanimate sciences in the name of diversity. Will all that money spent make humanity better off?