If it were anything less than the Nobel Prize, the news that Americans have yet again won in the sciences would by now be old hat. Americans take home Nobels routinely, it seems, especially in the sciences.
Elias James Corey, a Harvard researcher, won for developing new methods for synthesizing complex molecules. His work reordered the world of pharmaceutical manufacturing, allowing easier and simpler derivation of new drugs from natural compounds. Stanford physicist Richard Taylor and two MIT colleagues, Henry Kendall and Jerome Friedman, former graduate school classmates, won laurels for particle physics. In economics, Baruch College professor Harry Markowitz won for demonstrating a practical way to value investments. It led to the development of the mutual fund industry.
Complacency is inappropriate, however. As Stanford's Richard Taylor made clear, without great tools any scientist can get stuck in second gear. Dr. Taylor, who won his Nobel for finding the quark particle and proving that even atoms could be broken down into standard building blocks, gave the credit to his teacher and mentor, Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, builder of the Stanford Linear Accelerator on which the pioneering work was done. Co-laureates Henry Kendall and Jerome Friedman agreed.