Excerpt from an article in The Scientist:
Isaac Newton was just 23 years old when, while on a brief hiatus from Cambridge University, he developed his theory of gravitation. “For in those days I was in my prime of age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since,” he later wrote in a letter to a fellow scholar.
Similarly, at age 26, Einstein published the paper on the photoelectric effect that would win him a Nobel Prize 16 years later in 1921. Marie Curie was around 30 when she, along with her husband Pierre, discovered the radioactive elements radium and polonium.
But according to economists Benjamin Jones and Bruce Weinberg, young scientists making groundbreaking contributions to their fields are becoming an endangered breed. In a study published yesterday (November 7) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they reported that the chances a Nobel Prize winner at the turn of the 21st century produced their winning work by the age 30 or even 40 is close to zero.
Their analysis of 525 Nobel Prize winners (182 in physics, 153 in chemistry, and 190 in medicine) between 1900 and 2008, revealed that while the mean age at which they did their Nobel-prize winning work was around 37 for the three fields in the early 20th century, they are now around 50, 46, and 45 for Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine, respectively. The Scientist spoke to Weinberg, a microeconomist at Ohio State University, and Jones, a macroeconomist at the The Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, about the trends in age and creativity in science, and what they may mean for the future of science research.