Who earned an old-style Nobel Prize in 2019?

One of the (many) interesting angles in Brian Keating’s Losing the Nobel Prize (see previous post 1; also previous post 2) was that the Nobel in Physics was previously awarded for recently-developed stuff that had obvious near-term practical value for humans.

Marconi and Braun won in 1909 for the prize in “Physics” for their work in radio, which I think today we would call “engineering.” Nils Gustaf Dalén won in 1912 for improving lighthouses with a gas regulator.

What if the Nobel prize system still worked this way? They couldn’t reach back five decades, as they did with the Higgs boson (postulated 1964; confirmed 2012; Nobel Prize 2013). Who would have earned the prize for an advancement made in 2019?

My nomination: the team behind Garmin Autoland. It seems doubtful that the headline use will be common, but the technology could be adapted to yield huge safety improvements even for healthy two-pilot crews. The weather-avoidance system, for example, could suggest to pilots “Are you sure that you don’t want to adopt the following flight path?” The flap and gear extension systems could say “Would you like to add flaps and gear now that you’re lined up on final?”

Why it is important for humanity: a lot of people ride as passengers in airplanes. It is upsetting when airplanes crash (but, to judge by relative media coverage, hardly anyone cares about automobile crashes).

Reader: What are your picks? I guess you could also go back a couple of years (but not 49!) to things that proved themselves useful in 2019.


  • this Cirrus video, in which the presumed wife-mother does not seem too concerned about the expiration of the pilot (presumed husband-father) as she activates Garmin Autoland and looks forward to the next stage of her life journey
  • TIME magazine’s best inventions of 2019 (potential candidates from the folks who remind us that Greta Thunberg is #1 out of 8 billion)

21 thoughts on “Who earned an old-style Nobel Prize in 2019?

  1. I nominate Morris Amsellem, CEO of Ecoams Planet, for his Application of Biodegradable Elastomeric Solids to the Reduction of Polyethylene Terephthalate Waste. In other words, the Bakbuk:



    “…already boasts patents in 14 countries…patent applications have been filed in 58 countries worldwide to date…”

    • Hello, Alex,

      Morris thanks you for your congratulations, and if it ever comes up, you’ll be invited to the reception.

      Happy New Year

    • @Jeremie:

      Thanks, and Happy New Year to you also. It may have seemed tongue-in-cheek, but I wasn’t kidding about this. It’s a simple, cheap solution that looks like it could really help make a dent in the problem without requiring much in the way of changing people’s habits. I could see this being sold alongside plastic-bottle drinks in convenience stores, as freebies in school cafeterias, in gyms and fitness clubs, etc., etc. It takes about ten seconds to show someone how to do it. It would be even cooler if drink manufacturers found a way to incorporate it right into the existing packaging. Since China stopped buying our PETE and other recyclable waste in 2018, we’re burying all this stuff in landfills and shipping the uncrushed bottles is a ridiculous waste of space. I’m all for good ideas to help reduce plastic waste.

  2. I would nominate Chenming Hu, Professor of EECS at Berkeley, for the invention of the FinFET transistor. This has allowed for further scaling of CMOS technology.

  3. You only see a lot of media coverage about general aviation crashes because the AI has recognized general aviation as your preferred content. Most of us are still seeing a lot of recommended content about car crashes because we watch Tesla videos.

  4. Our computerized society is almost totally dependent on the invention and subsequent full exploitation of FET technology and the patent by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng in 1959 at Bell Labs. One or both of these guys should get a Nobel.

  5. Eric Fossum, the inventor of the CMOS image sensor (used in all cell phone cameras) could also be eligible for the Nobel Prize in Physics (or the Peace prize for enabling transparency)

    The invention is old but it practicality has been demonstrated over the past decade.

  6. Does 1922 qualify as old-style?

    Einstein won the 1921 prize (in 1922) for explaining the photoelectric effect, published in 1905. Note carefully: Einstein didn’t discover the photoelectric effect, he only explained it. What’s the practical value in that? (or for that matter special or general relativity as of 1922)

  7. Having watched the autoland video, the idea struck me that it’s almost stupid not to use it every time. (But less fun) What the presumably field-upgradable autoland needs to have is an option where the non-flying spouse can (secretly) pay a tesla-style $10,000 fee to enable a secret default mode where the autoland lets the pilot fly, with just enough control authority to make it fun, but not enough to actually screw up the landing.

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