5 Famous Scientists Who Never Won The Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prizes can be as controversial as they are prestigious. Very often, many scientists are left out of the spotlight despite their hard work in the particular field. Richard Feynman, the winner of 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, once said that the concept of this prize is deceptive. Classifying someone’s research as “Nobel” isn’t a good idea. Every research is ‘Nobel’ in some way. Here are the stories of a few scientists who contributed significantly to our understanding of the world, but who unfortunately never won top honours in Sweden.

1. Satyendra Nath Bose:

Accomplishment: Foundation of Bose Einstein Statistics and the Bose Einstein Condensates.

Bose in Paris 1925

S.N. Bose was an Indian Physicist from Calcutta.A self-taught scholar and a polymath, he had a wide range of interests in varied fields including physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, mineralogy, philosophy, arts, literature, and music. He served on many research and development committees in sovereign India.

S.N. Bose was nominated by K. Banerji (1956), D.S. Kothari (1959), S.N. Bagchi (1962) and A.K. Dutta (1962) for the Nobel Prize in Physics, for his contribution to Bose–Einstein statistics and the unified field theory. For instance, Kedareswar Banerjee, head of the Physics Department, University of Allahabad, in a letter of 12 January 1956 wrote to the Nobel Committee as follows: “(1). He (Bose) made very outstanding contributions to Physics by developing the statistics known after his name as Bose statistics. In recent years this statistics is found to be of profound importance in the classifications of fundamental particles and has contributed immensely in the development of nuclear physics. (2). During the period from 1953 to date he has made a number of highly interesting contributions of far-reaching consequences on the subject of Einstein’s Unitary Field Theory.” Bose’s work was evaluated by an expert of the Nobel Committee, Oskar Klein, who did not see his work worthy of a Nobel Prize.

2. Dmitri Mendeleev

Accomplishment: The Periodic Table of Elements

Mendeleev was a Russian Chemist and inventor, well knows for his periodic table. He was the first one to observe that the chemical properties of elements repeat periodically after certain atomic numbers. Based on this, Mendeleev devised the modern periodic table and also left spaces for unknown elements that were discovered later. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1906, but died in 1907 without that honour.

Mendeleev (Bettmann/CORBIS)

3. Annie Jump Cannon

Accomplishment: Classifying The Stars

Cannon was an American astronomer hired by Edward Pickering, along with other women (collectively referred to as “Pickering’s Harem”), to work at the Harvard Observatory mapping and classifying every star in the sky. Without these women, whom he called “computers,” Pickering could not have catalogued all those stars.

Annie Jump Cannon

Cannon was arguably the most accomplished of Pickering’s computers. During her career she observed and classified over 200,000 stars. But more importantly, she devised a star classification system to categorise stars based on spectral absorption lines. Though her contributions were not recognised during her forty-year astronomy career, her work lives on in the mnemonic device “Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me!” which helps astronomy students remember star types in order of decreasing temperature. Read (This Is How 1 Trillion Trillion Stars In The Universe Are Categorised Into 7 Groups) for more.

4. Meghnad Saha:

Accomplishment: Saha’s Ionisation Equation

Meghnad Saha (6 October 1893 – 16 February 1956) was an Indian astrophysicist best known for his development of the Saha ionisation equation, used to describe chemical and physical conditions in stars. Saha was the first scientist to relate a star’s spectrum to its temperature, developing thermal ionisation equations that have been foundational in the fields of astrophysics and astrochemistry.


Saha was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1930 by Debendra Mohan Bose and Sisir Kumar Mitra. The Nobel Committee evaluated Saha’s work. It was seen as a useful application, but not a “discovery.” Thus he was not awarded the Prize. Saha was nominated again for the Prize in 1937 and 1940 by Arthur Compton; and in 1939, 1951 and 1955 by Mitra. The Committee held to its previous decision

5. Gilbert Newton Lewis:

Accomplishment: Understanding How Chemical Bonding Works

Gilbert Lewis

Lewis was an American chemist whose contributions to chemistry in the 1900s include discovering the covalent bond (where atoms share electron pairs), and explaining the nature of acids and bases as substances that accept or give away a pair of electrons, respectively. He also introduced the “Lewis dot structure,” a way of representing chemical bonds and unbonded electrons in atoms and molecules. But though he was nominated 35 times, Lewis’s criticism of his colleagues and hostile relationships with his contemporaries kept him from winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


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