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Journal of No. 118

November 17th, 2006

Scientist Decay-rate @ 10:23 am

George Wetherill died in July. He was responsible for coming up with an accurate way of determining the age of rocks by measuring ratios of various isotopes stemming from the radioactive decay of elements in the rocks. For a time, he was at UCLA as chairman of the Department of Planetary and Space Sciences (where, decades later, I was partially employed for a time). A detail in the Science obituary is quite interesting -- he was apparently thrown out of his church for his work.
Cue standard creationist pun involving the age of rocks and the rock of ages.

Fortunately, unlike Galileo's case, being tossed out of the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) carries pretty minimal penalties... like missing out on Abigail Plunk's potato salad at the annual church picnic.

In any case, probably the confluence of an obituary and radioactive decay made me consider that the number of living Nobelists must reach a steady state. Roughly speaking, new Nobellists must be made at the same rate that they die. Obviously, at the start, the number of Nobellists increased from zero. And as more prizes have been shared in recent years, this must have swelled the number of Nobellists. Perhaps healthcare benefits or a shift in the average age of awardees may have helped to extend lives and decrease (or delay) the death rate of Nobellists. Nevertheless, I hypothesize that a steady-state should be reached.

So let's see how my hypothesis fares with Physics Nobellists from 1995-2004

Year Nobel Prizes Dead Physicists Net
1995 2 5 -3
1996 3 2 +1
1997 3 1 +2
1998 3 1 +2
1999 2 2 0
2000 3 0 +3
2001 3 2 +1
2002 3 0 +3
2003 3 1 +2
2004 3 0 +3

Hmmm... my hypothesis appears to stink. My revised hypothesis is that the number of living Physics Nobellists will increase exponentially without bound. I therefore calculate that by the year 2145, Nobel Prize-winning physicists will mass as much as the earth itself. Steps must be taken now to avert this catastrophe.
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Journal of No. 118