By Koh Aik Khoon
The ascendancy of the United States (US) in the arena of science and technology did not go unnoticed by the world community.
Since 1945, more Americans have won Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Physiology, than their European counterparts.
That was the year when Germany was defeated in World War 2. To add insult to injury, it lost a sizable core of talent to the triumphant US.
In a secret intelligence programme called Operation Paperclip thousands of top German scientists were roped in and recruited by the US Government to serve American scientific organisations.
One of the recruits was reportedly happy to be on the victorious side as his home country had successively lost two World Wars.
Many of these scientists were from the A-B-C group.
“A” stood for Atomic Sciences, “B” for Biological Sciences and “C” for Chemical Sciences.
They contributed immensely to the ascendancy of American science after World War 2.
Dr Wernher von Braun, for example, was largely responsible for the successful launch of Apollo 11 which landed Neil Armstrong on the moon.
In her book Operation Paperclip, Annie Jacobsen told the story that Einstein was not happy with the influx of German scientists to the US and he appealed to President Truman to cancel Operation Paperclip because to him, those who had served the Nazis were unfit for US citizenship.
Truman was more open-minded on such contentious issues.
Einstein himself had become a US citizen in 1940, seven years after his arrival in the US.
He spent the last 22 years of his life at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton University.
He and Enrico Fermi were considered two of the most eminent European scientists who had come to call the US their new home.
Both were Nobel laureates and had played a crucial role in the “Manhattan Project”.
Fermi literally played a life-changing role. He had a hand in building the atomic bombs, the deployment of which changed the course of the long-drawn Pacific War.
Scientists such as C. N. Yang, T. D. Lee and Susumu Tonegawa found their scientific fortune in the US. Their Nobel-winning works were done there.
They later contributed immeasurably to the development of US physics and medicine.
Admittedly, the US did not depend on Yang, Lee, Tonegawa alone to win Nobel Prizes. It had her own coterie of home-grown talent.
They were the products of top-tier universities.
Richard Feynman, for example, was schooled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton.
Leon Lederman was educated in Columbia University.
John Bardeen, from the University of Illinois, made Nobel history by being the only physicist to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics twice.
Since 1945, home-grown and imported scientific talent have propelled the US to greater heights.
Other nations can only look on in awe and envy.
*Dr Koh Aik Khoon is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics Malaysia. After he began writing for a local daily in 1988, he never looked back. His topics are mainly on Science and Higher Education. He has humanised scientists such as Einstein, Richard Feynman, Paul Dirac, Stephen Hawking, among others, in his pieces. Some of his articles have been compiled into a book entitled ‘Musings From The Ivory Tower’.