According to a fairly well-known statistic, the average age at which a scientist wins the Nobel Prize is 59 years. A new analysis, however, focused on the age at which Nobel laureates actually perform the research that earned them the prize.
Rasmus Bjørk, a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, used biographical information on previous winners from the Nobel Foundation's advanced information materials, citing the articles considered most relevant to each winner. The data includes 46 chemistry laureates who have won the award since 2000, as well as 61 physics winners since 1995 and 30 laureates in physiology or medicine since 2006.
He examined the age of the laureates at the time of publication of their most relevant and critical documents for their career, in order to propose a slice of age at which they performed their work on the more innovative. He found that the average age at which chemists performed the work that earned them the Nobel Prize was 46.5 years, against 42 years for physicists and 45.1 years for physiologists.
Bjørk also examined the age of the winners in the year of their award and calculated an average "waiting time" between scientists doing their best work and obtaining a Nobel Prize. For all the scientific laureates, the average waiting time was about 20 years: 20.8 years for chemistry, 21.2 years for medicine and 23.5 years for physics.
The figures corroborate the observation that the age at which the Nobel laureate scientists perform their most important work has increased. An analysis of the winners from 1901 to 1950 found that the average age at which scientists performed their Nobel Prize work was only 35.4 years, compared with 38.3 years for chemists.