Franklin Institute to honor scientist snubbed for Nobel

Posted on Thu, Mar. 18, 2004
Franklin Institute to honor scientist snubbed for Nobel
By Faye Flam

Inquirer Staff Writer

Raymond Damadian, the scientist who was publicly miffed that he didn’t
win last year’s Nobel Prize, is a winner of one of the Franklin
Institute’s top awards, to be announced today.

Damadian, 67, a pioneer in medical imaging research, made waves in
October when he bought ads in three major newspapers to argue that he
should have won the 2003 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

He is among the scientists and innovators to be honored with the
prestigious Franklin awards, bestowed over the last 180 years on
scientists, engineers and inventors including such luminaries as
Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham

In addition to five Franklin Medals, the institute gives out two
special honors called the Bower Awards, one for business and one for
science. The awards are tied to a different theme each year – for
2004, it’s brain research.

Damadian won the Bower Award for business leadership. It carries no
monetary prize. He said he was honored to be recognized by the
Franklin Institute and has put the Nobel disappointment behind him.

The Bower Award for science, which includes a cash prize of $250,000,
will go to Seymour Benzer of the California Institute of Technology,
who laid the foundation for today’s understanding of the way genes
influence behavior. Benzer’s work was chronicled in the Pulitzer
Prize-winning book Love, Time, Memory by Bucks County author Jonathan

Benzer discovered he could use fruit flies to study how the brain
works. Small and simple as they appear, fruit flies can record
memories and learn. They have elaborate courting behavior and keep
time with internal clocks. And fruit flies multiply fast, so multiple
generations can be tracked in just a few weeks. Benzer bred flies with
abnormalities in their behavior and then isolated the genetic mistakes

This year’s other winners include physicist Robert Meyer of Brandeis
University; chemist Harry Gray of Caltech; computer scientist Richard
Karp of the University of California, Berkeley; electrical engineer
Robert Newnham of Pennsylvania State University; and mechanical
engineer Roger Bacon of Amoco and Union Carbide.

All of the medalists will be honored at a ceremony at the Franklin
Institute on April 29.

Damadian was recognized for his contribution to the medical use of
magnetic resonance imaging, which has proved extremely valuable for
detecting tumors, damaged ligaments and cartilage, and other problems
with the body’s soft tissue. It also has opened up new frontiers in
brain research.

During the 1950s, scientists were using what was to become MRI as an
analytical tool for chemistry. The technique, then called nuclear
magnetic resonance, relied on the way the nuclei of different atoms
became excited when subjected to a magnetic field and pulses of radio
waves. The time these different nuclei took to “relax” back to their
normal states could be used to distinguish one type of atom from

In the late 1960s, Damadian thought it might be possible to use
nuclear magnetic resonance to distinguish cancerous tumors from
healthy tissue. He tested his idea and eventually secured a patent on
the technology.

Damadian, a native of Forest Hills, N.Y., started a company named
Fonar, which has installed 300 MRI machines around the world. He and
his company have prospered; in one recent patent dispute against
General Electric, he won $127.8 million.

But there was more to the MRI story. During the 1970s, two other
researchers, Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield, independently
realized that if they varied the magnetic field in space, the
molecules in different parts of an internal organ – say, the brain –
would respond differently, depending on their positions. These
scientists further developed this concept as a way to build up a 3-D
picture of the brain or other soft tissue in the body, which is the
main use of MRI today.

In 2003, Lauterbur and Mansfield won the Nobel Prize in physiology or
medicine for developing MRI as a technique for 3-D images. Some who
work in the field have said publicly they agree with the Nobel
committee’s decision; others side with Damadian, who has suggested he
might have been overlooked because of his outspoken view that God
created human beings along with the rest of the universe 6,000 years
ago, a notion that offends many scientists.

Damadian spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take out full-page
ads in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington
Post under the headline: “The Shameful Wrong that Should be Righted.”
He argued that if he had never been born, there would be no MRI today.

Contact staff writer Faye Flam at 215-854-4977 or [email protected]