James Watson, an American scientist, will be auctioning his Nobel Prize medal in December. He won the award with two other scientists who together discovered DNA, one of the most momentous discoveries in biology ever to be made. He is not the first person to put such an item up for auction. His co-discoverer Francis Crick’s medal was put up for auction last year and was sold for $2.27 million. The winning bid at the auction for the prestigious Nobel Prize medal is expected to be between $2.5 and $3.5 million.
Watson’s discovery was made in 1953 along with Crick and Maurice Wilkins. It revolutionized the science of biology and has been a key part of just about all discoveries in the field since then. Christie’s Auction House which will be handling the sale said that it was on par with work done by other famous scientists such as Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. This discovery “forever altered human history” and indeed, time seems to have borne that description out. One professor of genetics, Mario Capecchi, said that, “Everything we do since then is more or less based on that structure.”
“That structure” is the now famous double-helix which contains all the information required for a life-form to exist. While a layman may not understand everything about DNA nor perhaps know immediately that the acronym stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, they are most likely familiar with the image of the double-helix which has figured just as prominently in popular culture as it has in science. It has been used in art and design for years and many people may consider it to be one of the prettiest pieces of conceptual science ever reproduced in different media. This beauty was not lost on the Nobel Prize winners when they made the discovery. As Watson said, “All we could say when we got it: It’s so beautiful!”
It has also been extremely useful to researchers over the decades. One project has come completely out of the fact of DNA: the Human Genome Project. Watson was the first direct of the project’s National Institutes of Health and was the second person in history to have his genome sequenced. He has also been the chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and published many books and papers on various subjects. His reputation was marred, however, by a controversy surrounding remarks he made in 2007 when he was quoted as saying that Africans lacked the same level of intelligence that Europeans do. He retired from his chancellorship after that and apologized for the remarks, noting that they had no basis in science.
Whether that controversy will harm to bidding price or aid it cannot be predicted, but the performance of similar materials at auction points to a good result for Watson and his Nobel Prize. Crick’s own Nobel Prize medal sold for million, as did some of his letters which were also put up for sale after his death in 2004. One letter, written to Crick’s son, became the most expensive letter ever sold at auction. It explained the “Secret of Life.” Watson’s Nobel Prize may not sell for as much, but the winning bid on the day of auction will most likely be substantial and the winner will have the satisfaction of knowing that part of the proceeds will go to fund scientific endeavors and other charities.
By Lydia Bradbury
Photo by OZInOH – Flickr License