The chemistry Nobel prize awarded to Hungarian–American chemist George Olah in 1994 for his work on carbocations is the latest to be auctioned off. Bidding for the prize, which is made of 18kt gold and plated in 24kt gold, opened at $200,000 (£161,500) and it fetched a final price of $250,000 when the Nate Sanders Auctions closed on 26 January. Olah, a Jewish refugee who emigrated to the US in the 1950s after surviving the German occupation of Hungary during the second world war, also conducted research that contributed to the phasing out of leaded petrol. He died in March 2017 at his home in Beverly Hills, US, aged 89.
During his lifetime, Olah received many other awards besides the Nobel Prize, including the Széchenyi Grand Prize of Hungary and the Priestley Medal, which is the highest honour granted by the American Chemical Society (ACS). Four other ACS awards that he received were also auctioned. The winning bid for them was $6250.
A year ago, the same auctioneer also sold the chemistry Nobel prize medal of Walter Kohn, who won the award in 1998 for his work on density functional theory and passed away in 2016 at the age of 93. Kohn’s medal fetched $457,531.
Only a small number of Nobelists’ medals have ever been auctioned. These include the chemistry Nobel medals awarded to George de Hevesy and Cyril Hinshelwood – which were sold within two weeks of each other in November 2017 – and the Nobel medal awarded to Francis Crick for his part in the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure, which went for more than £1.3 million in 2013.
More recently, it was announced in December that the Nobel prize medal co-awarded to British chemist Archer Martin in 1952 for the invention of partition chromatography, will be sold by his family through the London-based auctioneer Noonans on 2 February 2023. The medal belonging to Martin, who passed away in 2002 at age 93, is expected to sell for between £100,000 and £150,000.
Earlier this month, news also broke that personal property of the late chemistry Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail – including his Nobel prize plaque and medal, as well as a replica of his famed femtosecond chemistry instrument – would be donated to the Ahmed Zewail Museum under development in the Zewail City of Science and Technology and Innovation in Giza, Egypt.