Nobel Prize controversy

Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded amid protests that two of mass spectrometry's inventors overlooked

Laura Spinney(
Dec 10, 2002

The 2002 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded yesterday (December 10) in Stockholm amid protests that two of the biggest contributors to the field of mass spectrometry in protein chemistry had been overlooked in favour of a researcher whose system is rarely used.

Koichi Tanaka of the Shimadzu Corp in Kyoto, Japan shared half the prize with John Fenn of the Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA, "for their development of soft desorption ionization methods for mass spectrophotometric analyses of biological macromolecules."

In 1988 Tanaka designed a system in which freely hovering ions are generated from biomolecules in a solid or viscous sample. These are then set in motion and the time they take to hit a detector noted. The molecular weight of a protein can then be measured by analysing the ions' charge and speed.

Along with Fenn's system called electrospray ionisation, which generates hovering ions from an aqueous solution,...