MONDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- The image of the brilliant young scientist making groundbreaking discoveries is iconic, especially in the fields of physics, chemistry and math.
Marie Curie's Nobel win in her early 30s for her discovery of radioactivity, and Albert Einstein's paper on his "Special Theory of Relativity," and another on the behavior of light for which he later won the Nobel prize -- both written in his mid-20s -- helped feed such notions.
However, new research in the Nov. 7 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looking at Nobel Prize winners over the last century casts doubt on the idea that one must be youthful to rock the science world.
"There's a widespread perception that people in more abstract disciplines like mathematics and physics tend to do their best work at earlier ages compared to people in more concrete or contextual disciplines, like medicine or history. But we found that increasingly over the last century, especially in physics and in chemistry, people are doing important work at older ages," said study co-author Bruce Weinberg, a professor of economics at Ohio State University, in Columbus.
"So if you are 30 or 40 or 50, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't do important work in science, and presumably in other fields as well," Weinberg said.
Weinberg said despite the many assumptions, no one had looked closely at the topic, so he and colleague Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University, in Chicago, created a dataset culled from 525 Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry and medicine between 1900 and 2008.
They also read hundreds of biographies and autobiographies, collecting such details as at what age a scientist won his or her Nobel, and whether that material was more empirical or theoretical in nature.
The team also tracked the level of education achieved at the time of their award win, as w
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