Stolen Nobels
By Rizwana Rahim
Chicago, IL

Winning a Nobel prize is a life-long dream, often unrerialized, even for the best in the field. But stealing one – I mean the gold medallion that comes with the honor and the award – is just an overnight job.
The only consolation: such losses have been rarer than the number of winners of this much-coveted prize. To date, there are only three such known cases -- two successfully resolved, one still missing.
In March 2007, employees at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California at Berkeley discovered a Nobel gold medallion missing overnight from a locked glass cabinet.
That hurt! First, it was the one awarded in 1939 to Ernest Lawrence (a well-known physicist in whose honor the building was named) for inventing cyclotron, a particle accelerator. In prestige, this loss was obviously immeasurable, but in cash now, it seems, it was worth about $ 4,200. Berkeley offered $2,500 for its return. Second, it was the first Nobel for a Berkeley scientist. “We’ve not had a theft of an artifact in 39 years,” rued Susan Gregory, Deputy Director of the museum.
Fortunately, shortly thereafter, this medallion was recovered, thanks to an anonymous tip. It turned out to be the work of a 22-year old Biology major, Ian Michael Sanchez, who also worked there. He told the police that he took it one evening on “a whim.” UC Berkeley couldn’t be happier, but Susan Gregory says that the medallion will be put away till next year when they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the museum. What will be displayed in the meantime will be a replica, loaned by a member of Lawrence ’s team who along with other team members had received it from Lawrence himself.
Another stolen Nobel medallion was the 1985 Nobel Prize for Peace that Kay Miller shared with her colleagues at International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. That gold medallion was found in January this year in Salt Lake City, UT, a chance find under some of the most unusual circumstances. The police were searching the car of someone in custody for some unrelated charges, and found, among dozens of illegal driver’s licenses and a gun and other things, the gold medallion that was awarded to Miller et al. The only connection discovered in the process was that the man once lived in Miller’s basement.
The third Nobel has a South Asian connection. It was awarded to the first non-Westerner then, Rabindranath Tagore, for Literature, in 1913. In 2004, it was found missing from a museum in Shantiniketan. It is still missing.
This information is derived from an article by Stephen Ornes in ‘Discover’ magazine, June, 2007.

 


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