Ideas that changed the world

The exhibition looks at how discoveries have impacted life through 16 everyday objects.
The exhibition looks at how discoveries have impacted life through 16 everyday objects. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Nobel Prize exhibition shows how breakthroughs impacted everyday life

The Nobel Prize in science may seem like a grand award conferred on obscure discoveries, but a new exhibition hopes to shed light on how these breakthroughs have contributed to inventions that people take for granted in daily life.

The blue dye in jeans, for example, was thanks to German chemist Adolf von Baeyer's creation of a synthetic indigo dye.

The wireless technology in the ubiquitous mobile phone was made possible by Nobel Prize-winning duo Guglielmo Marconi and Ferdinand Braun. The physicists contributed significantly to the development of wireless telegraphy in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

These are just two of the everyday objects displayed in The Nobel Prize: Ideas Changing The World, a free exhibition that opens at the ArtScience Museum today.


  • WHERE: ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands

    When: Till Jan 24, 10am to 7pm (last admission at 6pm)

    Admission: Free

    Info: There will be English and Mandarin guided tours on various dates this month. Go to

It is part of the inaugural Nobel Prize Series Singapore, a two-day series of events which ended yesterday, where Nobel laureates and education leaders congregated to discuss the future of learning.

The exhibition is produced by the Sweden-based Nobel Museum and looks at discoveries which have had an impact on everyday life.

There is a showcase of 16 everyday items including a hard drive, a spray can, insulin syringes and pens, along with write-ups on how a Nobel-Prize-awarded discovery contributed to each object.

The spray can, for example, became more environmentally friendly after Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland's research in the science of ozone depletion. Harmful freon gases, which had been used in spray cans as propellants, were replaced by alternatives such as hydrocarbons and other compressed gases.

Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been awarded more than 570 times in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economic sciences. The youngest recipient is Pakistani Malala Yousafzai who, at age 17 last year, was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for children's right to education. Her memoir is showcased as an exhibit.

Visitors can also learn more about the man behind the award, Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel, whose story is brought to life with interactive audio-visual installations. For example, his will - in which he declared that much of his wealth go to the establishment of the prize - is enlarged on touchscreens and translated into English.

If you think Singapore has no direct relation to the Nobel Prize, think again. A section of the exhibit is dedicated to Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner. The South African scientist helped set up the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology here and the Biopolis research hub.

Curated by the ArtScience Museum in association with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and the US-based Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the exhibit sheds light on how Dr Brenner played a pivotal role in developing the biomedical research industry here more than 30 years ago.

The exhibition ends with The Collision Space, a specially curated interactive space shared with Collider, an upcoming exhibition that opens next Saturday. It centres on the world's largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which is situated at the Switzerlandbased Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. The collider allows atoms to be smashed together under conditions similar to those during the Big Bang, which is believed to have led to the creation of the universe.

• The Straits Times is the official media partner of the Nobel Prize Series Singapore 2015.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Ideas that changed the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe