[Audio of Albert Einstein]
Einstein, Newton and many other legendary scientists did groundbreaking work in their 20s. But if your hair has gone gray and no Nobel seems likely, don’t fret just yet. Because the age at which Nobel-winning work gets done has been going up. So says a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Benjamin F. Jones and Bruce A. Weinberg, "Age dynamics in scientific creativity"]
Researchers analyzed 525 science Nobel Prize–winners from 1901 to 2008. In the small sample before 1905, about two-thirds of Nobel winners did their major work before age 40. But by 2000 most laureates did their cited work after age 40.
The entire field of quantum mechanics was predominantly a young man’s game—which meant that as late as 1934, more than three-quarters of physics prizes were for work done by people under 40. But the more mature researchers have steadily increased their catch since then.
The study authors note that a shift from theoretical to experimental work can account for some of the age change. It also takes longer to educate and train new contributors to now-mature fields. So keep plugging. Unlike the youthful Archimedes, your “eureka” moment may come in a bathtub with safety bars.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]