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‘I’m Not a Scientist, and I’m Not a Gentleman.’ Frances Arnold Is the Fifth Woman to Win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 3, 2018, 12:23 PM UTC

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is split between between chemical engineer Frances Arnold and George P. Smith and Gregory P. Winter for their work on so-called directed evolution and phage displays, which speed up laboratory production of new kinds of bacteria-produced enzymes and peptides.

Arnold, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, is the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel in the prize’s 117-year history and will take half the 9 million SEK (US$1 million) prize. Yesterday the Nobel committee awarded its third physics prize to a woman, Donna Strickland.

Smith is retired from a career of biochemistry research at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and Winter is a biochemistry researcher at Cambridge University and the founder of several companies including one that commercialized inflammation drug Humira, based on his Nobel-winning research. Humira’s sales last year were $18.4 billion.

Arnold began her work on bench-top evolution in the 1990s, inspiring work by Merck on the diabetes drug Januvia. Some scientists considered her methods “anti-science” she told Slate, “They might say ‘It’s not science’ or that ‘Gentlemen don’t do random muto-genesis.’ But I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a gentleman, so it didn’t bother me at all. I laughed all the way to the bank, because it works.”

Arnold also participated in the March for Science last year. Ignorance is the biggest threat to science, she told Chemistry World earlier this year. She may have been thinking of Heathrow Airport staff, who once detained her because they didn’t believe that she was visiting the Queen to help judge a prize.