It is a well-known statistic that the average age at which a scientist wins the Nobel Prize is 59 years. But a new badysis has investigated the age at which the Nobel prizes carry out the research that earned them the prize.
Rasmus Bjørk, a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, used biographical information on previous winners of the "advanced information" documents published by the Nobel Foundation, citing the documents considered most relevant to the award for each of the winners. The data includes 46 chemistry laureates who have won the prize since 2000, as well as 61 physics laureates since 1995 and 30 laureates in physiology or medicine since 2006.
He looked at how old the laureates were at the time their most relevant articles were published, which defined their career, in order to establish an age range in which they were doing their most "innovative" work. He found that the average age at which chemists did the work that won them the Nobel prize was 46.5, compared with 42 for physicists and 45.1 for physiologists.
Bjørk also examined the ages of the laureates in the year in which they were awarded the prize and calculated an average "waiting time" among scientists who are doing their best work and getting a Nobel for it. For all science winners, the average waiting time was around 20 years: 20.8 years for chemistry, 21.2 years for medicine and 23.5 years for physics.
The figures support the observation that the age at which Nobel Prize-winning scientists perform their most important work has increased. An badysis that examined the winners from 1901 to 1950 found that the average age at which scientists were doing their work with the Nobel Prize was only 35.4, and for chemists it was 38.3.