Friday, October 10, 2008

Close but no cigar

On July 8, 2008, I posted a piece called "In the presence of genius," in which I spoke about some of the brilliant people I have had the opportunity to meet and interview in my job. Two of the folks were from MIT: Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web; and Robert Langer, a chemical engineer who has developed remarkable nanotechnologies for biomedical applications.

Recently, I was asked to edit an article about the fact that of the three winners to date of Finland's Millennium Technology Prize - a prestigious global award with a purse of $1.4 million for people who develop innovative technologies that aid humanity - two have been MIT engineers. Yes, you guessed it: Berners-Lee and Langer. Anyway, the first draft of the article needed a lot of work so I rewrote it, to the client's delight.

Then last week, our client came to our office to tell us that there was a chance the article may have to be rewritten again. It appears that both Berners-Lee and Langer were finalists for Nobel prizes, announced this past week. Langer was up for the Nobel for Medicine, Berners-Lee for the Peace Prize. As it turns out, neither got the nod, and my own opportunity for further bragging rights also evaporated.

Had Langer won, he would have become the first engineer to win the award for Medicine. It would seem that his time is coming, however, as the Nobel is pretty much the only major award he hasn't received yet. The man is a true superstar in his field, and royalty at MIT, where his last name is uttered in reverent tones.

As for Berners-Lee, the very notion that a technologist who invented a computing concept and a programming language could be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize is indicative of just how monumental the World Wide Web is. The Nobel committee may never come to terms with giving an engineer a Peace Prize, but what would the world be like today minus his fingerprints?

Anyway, the article doesn't need to be rewritten now.

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