When Herbert C. Brown, Purdue University’s first Nobel Prize winner, walked into a hall at Harvard University circa 1960 and laid a handgun on the table, his audience got the point.”There was a joke going around that he should come armed because there was a lot of controversy at the time,” said Harry Morrison, a Purdue University organic chemistry professor who was a doctoral student at the Boston institution. At issue was a famous academic uproar over Brown’s interpretation of non-classical ions, one at odds with other researchers….
Those who knew the longtime Purdue professor, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1979 and died in 2004, say he was a larger-than-life personality whose influence resonates today.Brown’s reputation rose even higher in October after two of his protégés, Ei-ichi Negishi of Purdue and Akira Suzuki of Sapporo, Japan, were selected as Nobel laureates in chemistry.
BONUS: Purdue is also home to George Goble, who was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry, in 1996, for for his blistering world record time for igniting a barbeque grill-three seconds, using charcoal and liquid oxygen. [Alas, someone in the Purdue administration has been discouraging publicity for Goble’s beloved achievement, apparently on the theory that igniting a backyard barbeque either inspires or enables terrorists. We now know, thanks to the new publicity about Herbert Brown, that brandishing a handgun at an academic lecture is more officially commendable.]
DOUBLE BONUS: Next week Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki will be awarded their Nobel Prizes at the same time as Andre Geim will be awarded a Nobel Prize in physics; ten years ago Geim was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in physics.