Three Win Nobels for Work in Plastics

S T O C K H O L M, Sweden, Oct. 10, 2000 -- Two Americans and a Japanese researcher won the Nobel Prize in chemistry today for their discoveries that plastic can conduct electricity, allowing it to be used to reduce static electricity and interference on photographic film and computer screens.

Alan J. Heeger, 64, of the University of California at Santa Barbara; Alan G. MacDiarmid, 73, of the University of Pennsylvania; and Hideki Shirakawa 64, of the University of Tsukuba in Japan were cited for their revolutionary discovery that plastics can, with modifications, be made to conduct electricity as well as insulate.

“When it comes to light-emitting imaging diodes, there are no corresponding usages at all for metals. This [research] will open up entirely new areas that we’ve only seen the beginning of,” said Per Ahlberg, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Work in Flat TV Screens, Traffic Lights

The prize is worth 9 million kronor (US$915,000) this year.

The three researchers found “that a thin film of polyacetylene could be oxidized with iodine vapor, increasing its electrical conductivity a billion times,” the citation said.

The joint work of the three researchers in Philadelphia led to the development of light-emitting diodes in plastics. The so-called “brilliant plastics” could eventually lead to the development of flat television screens and luminous traffic and information signs that don’t need bulbs, the academy said.

The conductive polymers have already been used to reduce static electricity and interference on photographic film and computer screens.

“One reason for the great commercial potential of conductive and semiconductive polymers is that they can be produced quickly and cheaply,” according to the citation.

The physics prize was awarded earlier today to Zhores I. Alferov of the A.F. Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, Herbert Kroemer, a German-born researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments in Dallas.

They were cited for their work that helped create modern information technology, leading to everyday devices like pocket calculators, CD players and cell phones.

“The physics prizes are about the electronics of today and the chemistry prizes are about the electronics of the future,” Ahlberg said.

Peace Prize to Come Friday

A week of Nobel awards started Monday with the naming of Arvid Carlsson of Sweden, Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel of the United States, as the winners of this year’s medicine prize for discoveries about how messages are transmitted between brain cells, leading to treatments of Parkinson’s disease and depression.

The economics prize was to be announced Wednesday and the literature prize on Thursday in Stockholm. The coveted peace prize will be awarded Friday in Oslo, Norway.

Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, endowed the physics, chemistry, literature, medicine and peace prizes in his will but left only vague guidelines for the selection committees. The economics prize was first awarded in 1969.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also chooses the physics and economics winners, invited nominations from previous recipients and experts in the fields before whittling down its choices, but deliberations are conducted in strict privacy.

Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian-American, won last year’s chemistry prize for pioneering the use of rapid-fire laser flashes that illuminate the motion of atoms in a molecule.

The prizes always are presented Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.