Why Are There So Many Elderly Nobel Prize Winners in Science?

By , 9:00 am on

Sixty years ago, a particularly brilliant scientist could look forward to winning the Nobel Prize by the time he or she was about 54 years old. However, by the 2010s, the average age increased to 66. With the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, which has been trending younger (for instance, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai), the prize is increasingly being bestowed upon older recipients. This year, not a single Nobel Prize winner was less than 65 years old. The Woodlands elderly home care experts at Home Care Assistance discuss this phenomenon.

No one is quite sure why this sort of age inflation is occurring. Some experts in scientific creativity cite improvements in healthcare for older adults or the fact many younger scientists do not have access to expensive equipment. The most common explanation is that the body of scientific knowledge has become so deep and esoteric from centuries of accumulated discoveries that the average scientist needs to study longer and acquire more knowledge and experience before making an important breakthrough.

Another possible answer is that the nature of scientific discoveries has changed. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, there has been a noticeable shift from theoretical work, which favors younger scientists who can conjure up brilliant ideas from pure mathematics, to more experimental work, which favors older, more experienced scientists who spend years testing their theories. For example, physicists Peter Higgs and François Englert, who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson particle in 1964, waited 48 years before their theoretical work was finally confirmed.

The Nobel Prize for Physics did not always skew this old. In the 1920s and 1930s, younger scientists who excelled at theoretical work dominated the thriving field of quantum physics, which suggests the current trend of older Nobel Prize winners is not an ironclad, immutable law. If future scientific breakthroughs once again favor theoretical work, the average age of Nobel Prize winners could decrease.

These scientists have had the advantage of constant mental stimulation to keep their minds sharp. However, it’s never too late for your loved one to engage in mentally stimulating activities that can boost his or her brain health. At Home Care Assistance, we offer specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia home care in The Woodlands, TX, and our caregivers are available 24/7 to help your loved one accomplish a wide array of daily tasks. For more information on our in-home care services, please call 832-412-1345 today.