Since Brian Schmit’s Nobel victory I’ve had plenty of people say “I bet you wish you’d nabbed him for the book”. Naturally I do. I had no idea about his second career as a winemaker, but his research alone was enough to make him a vague idea that never got to the front of the queue.
However, I’ve had a small compensation with David Solomon’s winning of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize, Australia’s equivalent of the Nobel, although granted across all the sciences. Solomon is mainly famous for inventing the polymer bank notes used in Australia and quite a few other countries. While some countries have adopted these for bad reasons, as a result of bribery (in which Solomon is in no way implicated) there really isn’t much question they are the best option available.
However, his achievements in polymer chemistry are far more extensive. He’s currently working on producing polymers that will stretch across large areas a single molecule thick. These could be placed on top of reservoirs to reduce evaporation. At one molecule thick, even if one drunk them the quantities would be so small they are unlikely to cause any harm, but the potential is there to cut evaporation rates in half. Solomon noted to me that Queensland loses as much water from its dams to evaporation as it actually uses, so any significant reduction in evaporation rates, achieved at a reasonable cost, could transform water issues in hot climates.
If Solomon manages to get this to work he may indeed end up with a Nobel Prize, but it’s as likely to be for Peace as for Chemistry.
BTW, I don’t know Prof Stuart Wyithe, winner of the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for the physical sciences, but I did cover Dr Min Chen’s astonishing discover of the first new form chlorophyll in over 60 years. I’m a bit sceptical on how useful the discovery will be for building new solar cells, as some have claimed, but for sheer fascination it doesn’t do too badly.