PHILADELPHIA—Nobel prizes in science normally recognize research of extraordinary excellence, as judged by literature citations to it and awards that have accumulated over a period of years. This year, however, the Nobel committee awarded the physics prize for recent research that illuminated the physical science community with the brilliance of a supernova. New physics laureates J. Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Milller, of IBM’s Zurich Research Labora tory, published their seminal paper on high-temperature superconducting ceramics in September 1986 in the German journal Zeitschrift für Physik B: Condensed Matter (vol. 64, 1986, p.189). The paper had been cited once by year’s end, and just five times during the first two months of this year, according to data gathered by the Institute for Scientific Information, which publishes THE SCIENTIST.

However, once the physics community recognized the extraordinary promise of high-temperature superconductors, the paper’s citations increased exponentially, from 29 in March...

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