Society: Arts and Science – April 28


The Nobel Prize is bestowed annually in categories as selected by Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of cultural or scientific advances. The 1895 will of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel established the prizes.
Tobias Michel Karel Asser was born on this date in 1838. He was a Dutch lawyer and legal scholar, cowinner (with Alfred Fried) of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1911 for his role in the formation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the first Hague peace conference (1899).
Harold Clayton Urey was born on this date in 1893. He was an American physical chemist whose pioneering work on isotopes earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for the discovery of deuterium. He played a significant role in the development of the atom bomb, but may be most prominent for his contribution to theories on the development of organic life from non-living matter. Born in Walkerton, Indiana, Urey studied thermodynamics under Gilbert N. Lewis at the University of California. After he received his PhD in 1923, he was awarded a fellowship by the American-Scandinavian Foundation to study at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. He was a research associate at Johns Hopkins University before becoming an associate professor of Chemistry at Columbia University. In 1931, he began work with the separation of isotopes that resulted in the discovery of deuterium.During World War II Urey turned his knowledge of isotope separation to the problem of uranium enrichment. He headed the group located at Columbia University that developed isotope separation using gaseous diffusion. The method was successfully developed, becoming the sole method used in the early post-war period. After the war, Urey became professor of chemistry at the Institute for Nuclear Studies, and later Ryerson professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago. Urey speculated that the early terrestrial atmosphere was probably composed of ammonia, methane, and hydrogen. One of his Chicago graduate students was Stanley L. Miller, who showed in the Miller–Urey experiment that, if such a mixture be exposed to electric sparks and water, it can interact to produce amino acids, commonly considered the building blocks of life. Work with isotopes of oxygen led to pioneering the new field of paleoclimatic research. In 1958, he accepted a post as a professor at large at the new University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where he helped create the science faculty. He was one of the founding members of UCSD’s school of chemistry, which was created in 1960. He became increasingly interested in space science, and when Apollo 11 returned moon rock samples from the moon, Urey examined them at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.
Léon Jouhaux died on this date in 1954. He was a French trade union leader who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1951. Jouhaux was born in Pantin, Seine-Saint-Denis, France. Jouhaux’s father worked in a match factory in Aubervilliers. His secondary schooling ended when his father’s earnings were stopped by a strike. He gained employment at the factory at age sixteen and immediately became an important part of the union. In 1900, Jouhaux joined a strike against the use of the white phosphorus that blinded his father, was dismissed, and worked at a succession of jobs until union influence saw him reinstated. In 1906, he was elected by the local union as a representative to the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), where his abilities saw him quickly rise through the ranks of organized labour. By 1909 he became interim treasurer, and shortly afterwards became secretary-general of the organization, which he held until 1947. His goals as a trade unionist were the familiar ones of the early labour movement — the eight hour day, the right to union representation and collective bargaining, and paid holidays. During the Popular Front, the 1936 Matignon Agreement, to which he was a signatory, awarded many of these rights to French workers. In the years before World War II, Jouhaux organised several mass protests, and the organization he led protested against the war. However, once the war started, Jouhaux supported his country and believed that a Nazi Germany victory would led to the destruction of democracy in Europe. During the war, he was arrested and imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp. After the war, Jouhaux split from the CGT to form the social-democrat Workers’ Force (CGT-FO). In 1951, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. In an international context, his work was instrumental in the setting up of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and was elected to high positions in international trade union bodies, including the International Federation of Trade Unions and its postwar kin the World Federation of Trade Unions until that body split. On his passing in 1954, Léon Jouhaux was interred in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.