Suzanne Fields

No doubt many women as well as men disagree with her analysis of the role of sex in science -- it was with no small irony that she was doing the family laundry when she got the call from Stockholm -- but nothing succeeds like success. It wasn't easy getting where she got. She may have been washing the kids' socks and shirts on the day she learned of her Nobel medal, but it was a Christmas Day in the lab when she discovered the biological evidence to validate the theory for which she won the prize.

She found that telomeres at the end of a chromosome could be lengthened by a particular enzyme, a basic science discovery that has clinical relevance for understanding cancers and degenerative diseases. Success is always made of sacrifices and trade-offs.

Carol Greider's prize should encourage kids who suffer dyslexia, as she did as a child. She's proof that symptoms can be discouraging, but they don't have to be disabling. Dyslexia as a child made her feel stupid, but she kept working to compensate and as a consequence developed a good memory for facts. That helped her excel in chemistry and anatomy, where memorization is important. A victim she was not.

Women's choices today are more personal than political. The Barbie doll who complained that "math class is tough" was right enough, but Ken -- who actually looks like he has a lot of undisturbed air between his ears -- could have said that, too. High achievement in math and science as well as history and literature are hard for boys and girls, men and women. Feminism has awakened in women the possibilities to enter a variety of fields that were once closed to them because of educational and cultural bias. These science Nobels for women are a start.

Unlike the Peace Prize, the prizes for literature and science usually recognize a body of work, accomplished over time. Scientists are often imagined to have a "Eureka!" moment, the cry of discovery first credited to Archimedes, the third century mathematician in ancient Greece. He suddenly thought of his solution to a mathematical conundrum when he lay taking the waters in a bathtub. But his "Eureka!" moment followed years of mathematical training. Isaac Newton spent hours of study and thinking before that apple fell on his head, confirming his ideas about gravity.

If the Nobel Prize for Peace sends the wrong message, the prizes in science are of another order altogether. This is our "Eureka!" moment.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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