A success story like few.
The scientist Moungi Bawendi – co-winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry for the development of “quantum particles” – submitted his very first chemistry paper as an undergraduate student.
This disappointment almost “destroyed” him at the time, says the award-winning scientist.
Bawendi (62) remembers excelling in science in high school. However, a cruel disillusionment awaited him as an undergraduate student at the prestigious Harvard University in the late 1970s.
“I was used to not even having to study for exams,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“I looked at the first question and I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out the second question either,” he recalls.
Bawendi finally scored 20% – the lowest in the entire class – for that question paper.
“I thought: ‘This is the end of me, what am I doing here?'”
Bawendi loved chemistry at that stage but realized that he had not mastered the art of exam preparation.
“I learned how to study, which I didn’t know how to do before.”
After that, Bawendi mostly received full marks for his papers.
Decades later, his message to young people is simple: “Persevere,” and “don’t let setbacks destroy you.”
On Wednesday, Bawendi, along with Louis E Brus and Alexei I Ekimov, were named the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry for their development of “quantum particles”; nanoparticles used in new generation TV screens.
It is also used in medical imaging to guide surgeons in treating cancer patients.
Quantum particles are extremely small – only a few millionths of a millimeter in diameter. It is an artificially created collection of semiconducting nanoparticles that glow blue, red or green when exposed to light.
Bawendi, Brus and Ekimov’s names were accidentally revealed in a media release from Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences, hours before the official announcement was made on Wednesday morning.
Ekimov (78) actually made the first discovery of quantum particles in the 1980s before the American chemist Brus (80) realized that the crystals could be developed when floating in liquid.
Bawendi, in turn, invented a method to develop customized quantum particles, which paved the way for more commercial and scientific uses, reports the BBC.
“A long time ago, nobody thought you could develop such small particles, but the winners this year managed to do it,” said the Swedish academy.
The three scientists – all currently based in the USA – will share the prize money of kr11 million (about R19 million).