8 Rejected Research Papers That Ultimately Won The Nobel Prize


The grand ideas that win the Nobel prize are not always welcomed by the scientific community. Remember Copernicus when he said that Earth was round in shape? Remember Avogadro when he proposed that equal volumes of gas have equal numbers of molecules provided temperature and pressure were constant?

Similarly the Nobel prize – winning research is revolutionary, ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting. Many breakthroughs we study today were once rejected by the scientific community. Howard Temin proposed that DNA could be made from RNA. The idea was dubbed ludicrous and his recognition “came after a lonely battle to overcome derisive criticism from scientific leaders who refused to believe in his theory that some viruses carry their genetic information in the form of RNA, which is then copied into DNA in infected cell.” Temin obituary.

Here are 8 revolutionary papers that were rejected by pre-publications for peer review:

1. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1997) to Paul Boyer for: “Identification of the mechanism for the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)” 

Boyer revolutionized Biochemistry by proposing how there are “beautiful little machines”  inside enzymes that work on molecular level. Boyer remembers that “the leading journal” in his field, The Journal of Biological Chemistry, declined to publish his work. Rejection

Credits: Alchetron


2. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1991) to for: The development of high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy:

“The paper that described our achievements was rejected twice by the Journal of Chemical Physics to be finally accepted and published in the Review of Scientific Instruments.” Rejection

Ernst, Richard
Ernst, Richard. Credits: Quotationof


3. Nobel Prize in Physics (1969) to Murray Gell-Mann for: “for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions”

Physical Review rejected “Curious Particles” topic for my research paper. I tried “Strange Particles”, and it was rejected too. They insisted on : “New Unstable Particles”. That was the only title sufficiently ostentatious for the editors of the Physical Review. Rejection

Murray Gell-Mann. Credits: Thefamouspeople
Murray Gell-Mann. Credits: Thefamouspeople


4. Nobel Prize in Medicine (1953) to Hans Krebs for: The discovery of the Kreb’s cycle (aka the citric acid cycle): 


Rejection letter from journal "Nature" to Hans Krebs
Rejection letter from journal “Nature” to Hans Krebs


5. Nobel Prize in Physics (2000) to Herbert Kroemer for: “Developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed and opto-electronics”

“I wrote up the idea and submitted the paper to Applied Physics Letters, where it was rejected. I was talked into not fighting the rejection, but to submit it to the Proceedings of the IEEE, where it was published, but ignored. I also wrote a patent, which is probably a better paper than the one in Proc. IEEE.” Rejection

Herbert Kroemer. Credits: Mediatheque website
Herbert Kroemer. Credits: Mediatheque website


6. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1986) to John Polanyi for: Explaining the dynamics of chemical and elementary processes.

Physical Review Letters rejected the paper as lacking scientific interest. Shortly thereafter they rejected T. Maiman’s report of the first operating laser, on the same grounds. Polanyi read about this second rejection, quite by chance, while holidaying on an island in Georgian Bay. On returning to Toronto in September of 1960 he submitted the identical manuscript to the Journal of Chemical Physics, where it was promptly published.” Rejection.

John Polanyi. Credits: Alechtron
John Polanyi. Credits: Alechtron


7. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1993) to Kary Mullis for: inventing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. 

“And Dan Koshland would be the editor of Science when my first PCR paper was rejected from that journal and also the editor when PCR was three years later proclaimed Molecule of the Year.” Rejection.

Kary Mullis. Credits: TED
Kary Mullis. Credits: TED


8. Nobel Prize in Medicine (1977) to Rosalind Yalow for: inventing the radio-immuno-assay (RIA).

“For years after winning the Nobel Prize, Yalow proudly showed this rejection letter in her public presentations.” Rejection.

Rejection letter received by Dr. Yalow
Rejection letter received by Dr. Yalow


What do you think of these amazing Nobel-worthy papers that were rejected? Which was the most shocking rejection for you? Let us know in comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *