Geek Trivia: The gold medal round(about)

Who are the only Nobel Prize recipients who possess "recycled" Nobel medals — a unique distinction that was caused in part by the aggression of Nazi Germany?

Who are the only Nobel Prize recipients who possess "recycled" Nobel medals — a unique distinction that was caused in part by the aggression of Nazi Germany?

German scientists Max von Laue, who won the 1914 Physics Nobel for his work on X-ray crystal diffraction, and James Franck, who won the 1925 Physics Nobel for the famous Franck-Hertz experiment that confirmed the Bohr atomic model, both possessed "recycled" Nobel medals. And it's all thanks to the generous and ingenious efforts of another Nobel Laureate, George de Hevesy, who himself won the Chemistry Prize in 1943 for his work on isotope tracers.

When Nazism came to power in Germany and Hitler began his personal feud with the Nobel committee — especially after German anti-Nazi writer and activist Carl von Ossietzky won the 1935 Peace Prize — Franck and von Laue defied German law and sent their Nobel medals to Copenhagen, Denmark, for safe keeping. Unfortunately, Denmark proved a less than ideal hiding place once Germany invaded in 1940. This is when de Hevesy stepped in, dissolving von Laue and Franck's medals in acid to prevent their capture by Nazi forces. De Hevesy preserved the acid solution and stored it at the Niels Bohr Institute, where no one would suspect what it contained.

Perhaps surprisingly, the solution remained undisturbed during the Nazi invasion and, after World War II, de Hevesy retrieved the solution and precipitated the gold from it. This gold was in turn given back to the Nobel committee, which recast von Laue and Franck's medals from the original gold — though technically, the gold from each original respective medal is now intermixed with the other — effectively "recycling" their Nobel medals.

Officially, the Nobel committee does not issue replacement medals for those lost or stolen. The committee will create replica medals, as it did in the case of Rabindranath Tagore, the winner of the 1913 Literature Nobel, whose medal was stolen from West Bengal University. Thus, von Laue and Franck are the only persons to receive "original" Nobel medals twice.

That's not just some ostentatious academic ornamentation; it's a rousing recursive recognition's worth of Geek Trivia.

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