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Auction 90  23 Nov 2017
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Lot 77

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Estimate: 120000 GBP

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The Nobel Prize in Chemistry and three further medals awarded to George de Hevesy (1885-1966), joint discoverer of the element Hafnium in 1922, developer of the use of radioactive isotopes as tracers and who, in 1940, famously dissolved the Nobel Medals which had been awarded to Max von Laue and James Franck to conceal them from the Nazis, comprising: (i) Nobel Medal for Chemistry, in 23 carat gold, by Erik Lindberg, obv., bust of Alfred Nobel left, rev., inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes, allegorical figures of Science holding scroll unveiling Nature holding cornucopia, reg. acad. scient. suec. below, divided by panel engraved G. Hevesy de Heves mcmxliv, edge marked guld and dated 1944, 66mm, 207.75g, light handling marks, otherwise virtually as struck, in its fitted display case of issue [this slightly waterstained]; (ii) Royal Society's Copley Medal, in silver-gilt, by Mary Gillick, awarded in 1949, edge engraved professor george charles de hevesy. for. mem. r.s., 56.8mm, good extremely fine; (iii) Royal College of Physicians' Baly Medal, in silver, by J.S. and A.B. Wyon, edge engraved george de hevesy. 1951, 58mm, virtually as struck, well toned; (iv) Atoms for Peace Award, large gold medal, struck in high relief by Medallic Art Co., New York, edge engraved george charles de hevesy. 1958, 18 ct. fine, 302.8g, very minor traces of handling, virtually as struck. The lot is offered with: The Nobel Institute's individually-prepared gilt blue leather casebound presentation folder containing the illustrated manuscript citation for the award to George de Hevesy (this signed ELSA Ö NOREEN, 1944), in original lined and padded box, in perfect condition as awarded; A Nobel Institute dinner menu, 1946; An original folder and Press Release including the citation for the Atoms For Peace award, with text of the address by Dag Hammarskjold, U.N. Secretary-General, 1959, and original embossed card from the presentation; Several photographs, copy documentation and related items (lot). The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to George de Hevesy in 1943, with the citation reading: 'For his work on the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes'. The Prize was reserved until the following year and de Hevesy therefore received it in 1944. The Copley Medal was awarded to de Hevesy in 1949 'For his distinguished work on the chemistry of radioactive elements and especially for his development of the radioactive tracer techniques in the investigation of biological processes'. De Hevesy had been elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1939 and felt himself to be especially honoured by the award of its Copley Medal. The Baly Medal has been awarded biannually since 1869 by the Council and President of the Royal College of Physicians to a person who has especially distinguished themselves in the study of physiology. The award was established in memory of William Baly, whose valuable work on hygiene in prisons was cut short by his untimely death in a railway accident. The Atoms for Peace Award was established following a grant of $1,000,000 made by the Ford Motor Company in direct response to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's celebrated 1953 'Atoms for Peace' speech to the United Nations General Assembly. The first recipient, in 1957, was George de Hevesy's close friend, collaborator, muse and colleague Niels Bohr, de Hevesy himself being honoured in the following year. The award was made only 23 times in total, the last recipient being Eisenhower himself in 1969. George Charles de Hevesy was born in Budapest in 1885 into a prominent Hungarian family of Jewish descent. The fifth of eight children, his early education was in a stern but broad Catholic tradition and he decided to become a scientist. Hevesy's studies took him to Berlin, Freiburg, Zürich, and Karlsruhe before travelling to Manchester, in January 1911, to work under Ernest Rutherford on research into radioactivity. One day Hevesy met Rutherford in the cellar of the Institute where some hundred kilograms of lead in pitchblende (a gift from the Austrian government) was stored. Rutherford remarked 'if you are worth your salt my boy try to separate the radium-D from all that nuisance of lead'. The young Hevesy was an optimist and was pretty sure that he could succeed but, in spite of his best efforts, he failed. The process did however show him that if radium-D could not be separated from lead there remains a 'marker' (or tracer), and this realisation was to profoundly affect his future work. In 1912 Niels Bohr also arrived in Manchester and the two men, who were of similar age, at once formed a close friendship and professional association which was to last a lifetime. During a visit to Vienna's Radium Institute late in the same year, Hevesy met Stefan Meyer and, later, Friedrich Paneth. He and Paneth also became firm friends and collaborators, publishing several joint papers where Hevesy's energetic work on the application of 'labelled' lead was complemented by Paneth's careful, thorough approach. Hevesy also met Einstein in Vienna and, in the winter of 1913-14, he returned to Hungary to recover his health and to work briefly at the University of Budapest before the outbreak of war. An unenthusiastic recruit to the Austro-Hungarian army and never physically strong, Hevesy was soon transferred to civil duties in 1915, including working in the X-ray unit of a Budapest hospital and being given the unpleasant task of melting church bells to provide metal for armaments. Although pursuing his work with Paneth as far as he could during this period the effects of war, including a growing sense of anti-Semitism in Budapest, meant that Hevesy was keen to accept Niels Bohr's invitation to join Bohr's new Institute in Copenhagen as soon as possible after hostilities ended. With Bohr's support, and working with Dutch researcher Dirk Coster, Hevesy finally succeeded in isolating the element numbered 72 in the periodic table. Although widely predicted the metal, closely associated to zirconium, had previously eluded discovery. By chance the breakthrough came whilst Niels Bohr was in Stockholm to receive his own Nobel prize in late 1922 and the element, which is notable for absorbing neutrons with very high efficiency, was named Hafnium (after 'Hafnia' the Latin name for Copenhagen). In 1924 Hevesy married Pia Riis in Denmark and in 1927 the couple moved to Freiburg im Breisgau, where Hevesy accepted a Professorship. His work and growing reputation took him all over the world but by the mid-1930s it became apparent that he could not remain in Nazi Germany so the Hevesys moved again, returning to Copenhagen and the Bohr Institute. Other scientists associated with the Institute included the German physicists Max von Laue and James Franck, Nobel laureates in 1914 and 1925 respectively. Their named Nobel medals were stored at the Bohr Institute for safe keeping outside Germany, where the Nazi Government had introduced draconian regulations regarding personal holding of gold. Contravention of these rules ran a real risk of incurring the death penalty and in the early summer of 1940, as Denmark was being invaded and occupied, the Institute had to decide what to do with the potentially incriminating medals. Bohr had already sold his own award to raise funds for relief in Finland but the risk of discovery of the other two was very real. After rejecting the idea of burying the awards, Hevesy removed the evidence by dissolving them in aqua regia, leaving the resulting solution on a shelf in a flask which, fortunately, did not arouse suspicion. After the war the flask was still there and undisturbed; Hevesy was able to recover the gold by reversing the chemical process. He returned the reconstituted metal to the Nobel Foundation and it was duly used to make restrikes of the two medals which were re-awarded to both their original recipients in 1952! During the war Hevesy himself was honoured with his own Nobel Prize, in recognition of a lifetime's work. In receiving the award in 1944 he also accepted the offer, available to all Nobel Laureates, of Swedish citizenship. The official citation for his prize used the now-familiar terms 'isotopes' and 'tracers' which had not even been coined when his work began. George de Hevesy's work and achievements have led, in particular, to enormous advances in radiobiology, medical research and clinical diagnosis, including XRF analysis. He has been called the founder of radioanalytical chemistry and, in addition to the medals offered here, he was recognised with many further accolades and honours during his lifetime. These include that of becoming the third Niels Bohr Medallist in 1961 (following the awards to his great friend Niels Bohr himself (in 1955) and to Sir John Cockroft (in 1958)).
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