The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 17 No. 6 • July 2014

One Requirement For the Nobel Prize:
You Have to Live Long Enough to Receive It

Alfred Nobel was surprised when his own premature obituary appeared in a French newspaper.
A letter to Nature from a Finnish scientist warns that the time from a researcher’s discovery to when he or she receives the Nobel Prize is growing longer. In the letter, Dr. Santo Fortunato said, “Before 1940, Nobels were awarded more than 20 years after the original discovery for only about 11% of physics, 15% of chemistry and 24% of physiology or medicine prizes, respectively. Since 1985, however, such lengthy delays have featured in 60%, 52%, and 45% of these awards, respectively.”

In support of this, the author provided a plot of “years since discovery” versus “year of Nobel prizes” showing an upward sloping curve. Dr. Fortunato deplores the fact that by the end of this century, the predicted average age of prizewinners is likely to exceed his or her projected life expectancy and, since the Nobels are not awarded posthumously, many who deserved the award will not be able to receive it. The longer it takes, the more numerous the scientists involved in developing a hypothesis and this is also a difficulty as no more than 3 scientists can share a prize.

One potential Nobel prize winner who immediately comes to our minds is Dr. Denham Harman, particularly for his free radical theory of aging (1956) extended to the mitochondrial theory of aging (1972).1 As Dr. Harman is now in his 90s, he may very well be one of those who will miss out on a Nobel Prize simply because his work involves a very complex subject; it has now been over 40 years since his pathbreaking hypothesis of mitochondria as a key element in the aging process, requiring the development of free radical chemistry, hormesis, the human genome, and more in order to reach the substantial support required for the Nobel.


  1. Harman Denham. The biologic clock: the mitochondria? J Am Geriatr Soc. 20:145-7 (1972).

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