(Bloomberg) -- The laureates of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry have been officially announced, hours after their names were leaked in what appeared to be an inadvertently sent email.
The winners, for achievements in the field of nanotechnology, are Moungi G. Bawendi from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louis E. Brus from Columbia University and Alexei I. Ekimov formerly from research company Nanocrystals Technology Inc., according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The three will share the 11 million-krona ($1 million) award, the academy said.
The prize “rewards the discovery and development of quantum dots, nanoparticles so tiny that their size determines their properties,” the academy said on Wednesday. “These smallest components of nanotechnology now spread their light from televisions and LED lamps, and can also guide surgeons when they remove tumor tissue, among many other things.”
Bawendi was born in France, Brus in the US, and Ekimov in the former Soviet Union.
Their names came to light in an emailed message sent Wednesday morning, before the committee had even met to formally decide on the winners. A spokeswoman contacted by Bloomberg confirmed an email had been sent, and added that the academy had not at the time made a decision on the award. Officials plan to investigate what had happened, she said.
Bawendi had no idea about the leak.
“I was awakened by the Swedish Academy, I was sound asleep. I didn’t hear anything about it,” he told reporters, adding that he’s “very surprised, sleepy, shocked, unexpected and very honored. I didn’t think I would get it.”
Secrecy around the most coveted prize in science is usually strictly upheld, though in 2018 local media reported that an inquiry found that a committee member had disclosed laureate names to her husband. The inquiry followed scandals that led to the pulling of the literature prize that year.
Hans Ellegren, secretary general of the academy, called Wednesday’s leak “very unfortunate.”
“There was a press release sent out for still unknown reasons,” he said. “We have been this morning very active trying to find out what actually happened,” but as of yet “we don’t know that.”
Still, he underscored that no decision had been taken before the email was sent, given the full academy must meet to pick the winners.
“The meeting is not just a formality,” Ellegren said. “The academy as a whole decides who will receive the Nobel prize, but no decision is taken until it’s taken.”
Brus and Ekimov, independently of each other, were the first to create quantum dots, which are crystals that often consists of just a few thousand atoms. In terms of size, quantum dots have the same relationship to a football as a football has to the size of the Earth. Changing the size of the nanoparticles allows control over their color.
Bawendi’s contribution was to revolutionize their manufacturing methods at a high quality.
Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. A prize in economic sciences was added by Sweden’s central bank in 1968.
The laureates are announced through Oct. 9 in Stockholm, with the exception of the peace prize, whose recipients are selected by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo.
--With assistance from Anton Wilen.
(Updates with comments from Bawendi and the academy, as well as detail on quantum dots, from seventh paragraph)
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