Before 2013 comes to a close, let’s take a moment to honor some of the greatest minds that we lost this year.
On November 20th of this year, Nobel laureate Frederick Sanger passed away at the age of 95. Sanger worked with bovine insulin and was able to determine the protein’s structure. If insulin had a set sequence, he reasoned, then the same must be true for other proteins. He eventually showed this to be true and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1958.
After working with protein, Sanger shifted his attention to nucleic acid. He devised a new method for sequencing DNA and would be awarded a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980 for the technique.
He is currently the only person to have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry twice and is one of only four scientists to have received the Prize twice.
Astrophysicist Margherita Hack passed away on June 29 at the age of 91 after an extended illness. Hack was most well known for her science writing and her uncanny ability to explain difficult astrophysical concepts in simple language.
She became the first woman to head the Trieste Astronomical Observatory in Italy in 1964 and held the position until 1987. During that tenure, she used her position to advocate science on Italian television programs.
In 1995, the asteroid 8558 Hack was named to honor her and her contributions to science. Upon her death, she donated her personal library to the city, totaling more than 24,000 books on the subject of astrophysics.
Nobel laureate Donald Glaser passed away at the age of 86 on February 28. He had a degree in physics and mathematics before eventually getting a Ph.D. in physics. He began teaching at the University of Michigan where he would begin his research into subatomic particles.
His research eventually led him to the creation of the bubble chamber, which allowed him to observe elementary particles much more clearly and quickly than the standard cloud chamber. The bubble was filled with ether, though hydrogen also proved useful. This invention garnered him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1960.
Nobel laureate François Jacob passed away at the age of 92 on April 19. He was a molecular biologist who worked extensively with metabolic enzymes in bacteria and bacteriophages. He had initially hoped to become a surgeon, but injuries sustained while he was a French medical officer during WWII forced him to refocus his specialty.
In 1965, Jacob received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for determining how the genetic code impacts synthesis of viruses and regulates enzymes. This involved describing a host of new regulatory pathways, including operons, regulatory genes, messenger RNA, and allosteric proteins.
Neurologist and Nobel laureate David Hubel passed away on September 22 at the age of 87 from kidney failure. His research career began while working at Walter Reed Hospital during the Korean War, when he first began investigating the visual cortex of cats. He had invented a microelectrode which he could use to visualize nerve impulses.
After he was out of the Army, Hubel began working at Harvard Medical School where he continued his research. His microelectrode gave incredible insight in regards to identifying and describing the simple and complex cells that make up the primary visual cortex. This, along with introducing the neurons that are the ocular dominance columns, earned Hubel and his research partner the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1981.
Famed oncologist Jane C. Wright passed away at the age of 93 on February 19. Her cancer research allowed her to develop major strides in chemotherapy, which would end up saving or extending countless lives. One of the most notable differences in her technique versus other cancer researchers was the fact that she used cultured human tissue to test chemotherapy medications instead of merely relying on mouse models.
Both Jane and her sister would become third generation physicians, which was no easy task for African-American women in the 1930s and 40s. She became chief resident while working at Harlem Hospital, and she went on to head various departments at different facilities before ultimately ending up at New York Medical College as the associated dean of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department. Throughout her career, she received many accolades, including becoming the highest ranked African-American physician (including males and females) working at a medical college in 1967.
The pioneer of in vitro fertilization, Sir Robert Edwards, passed away on April 10 at the age of 87 after an extended bout of lung disease. He is most well known for his fertility research and for co-developing a technique that would allow infertile couples to conceive a child.
IVF is performed by fertilizing an egg in a dish, and then placing the egg directly into the uterus. The first “test tube baby” was born on July 25, 1978. Since then, an estimated 4 million babies have been born using Edwards’ technique. IVF was viewed as such an important development on the front of human reproduction that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010.
Astronaut Scott Carpenter passed away at the age of 88 on October 10, following a stroke. He was one of the original seven Mercury Astronauts and was the second American astronaut to orbit the Earth, but the fourth American in space.
Carpenter began his career as a pilot in the US Navy, first flying P2V Neptunes in the Korean War, and then later becoming a test pilot. He served as a backup for John Glenn during the first orbital mission, but did not go into orbit until three months later. He orbited Earth three times for nearly five hours before returning to the ground.
Geneticist Obaid Siddiqi passed away on July 26 following a traumatic brain injury sustained during a car accident at the age of 81. He worked extensively on Drosophila melanogaster and completed research throughout the United States and England before returning to his home country of India to bolster biological research there.
In 1962, he founded the Molecular Biology Unit at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. In the early 1990s he became the director of the Institute’s National Center for Biological Sciences where he worked until his death. Throughout his career, he received several honorary doctorates and awards, including the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan, which are the second and third highest civilian honors in India, respectively.
Engineer and physicist Fred Kavli passed away on November 21 at the age of 86 after a yearlong battle with cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer of the bile ducts. He studied physics in school but went on to build a successful company manufacturing aeronautical parts. Once he sold his company in 2000, he dedicated the rest of his life to philanthropic endeavors that support scientific discovery.
In 2008, he created the Kavli Prize which celebrates achievements in three categories: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The award is given biannually and consists of a scroll, a commemorative medal, and $1,000,000.