Only three days after winning the Nobel Prize in economics, Victoriaborn scholar William
Vickrey died of a heart attack while driving to Boston from New York City. But however briefly, the 82-year-old maverick had the satisfaction of gaining recognition he had long hoped for. Vickrey, a naturalized American, spent over 60 years at Columbia University developing what he considered more equitable and efficient ways to deal with everything from taxation to transit fares to sealedbid auctions. Often, his work in the field of asymmetric information—the science of improv-
ing economic efficiency when there is incomplete data about two sides of a transaction—was ignored by government officials. New York City, for instance, steadfastly rejected his contention that transit costs and congestion could be cut by pricing fares according to time of day and distance travelled. An eccentric who was wellknown for roller-skating to class, Vickrey also denounced balanced budgets (as job destroyers) and the plans for a unified European currency. He shared the $1.5-million award with British scholar James Mirrlees, 60, of Cambridge University, who—working indepen-
dently—discovered mathematical formulas that support Vickrey’s theories. Other Nobel Prizes awarded last week: Medicine: Two scientists shared the award for work that may help in the search for new vaccines and treatments for cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Australian-born Peter Doherty, 55, and Rolf Zinkernagel, 52, of Switzerland conducted studies in the early 1970s at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. The two discovered how the body’s immune system recognizes cells that have been infected by a virus.
Chemistry: Briton Harold Kroto, 57, and Americans Robert Curl, 63, and Richard Smalley, 53, were honored for joint research
in 1985 that led to the discovery of a new family of carbon molecules called fullerenes. The new molecules, also known as “buckyballs” because of their resemblance to architect Buckminster Fuller’s 1967 geodesic dome, have created a new field of research that could lead to advances such as superstrong fibres.
Physics: The prize went to Americans David Lee, 65, Robert Richardson, 59, and Douglas Osheroff, 51, who found that, at very low temperatures, a form of helium flows without losing energy to friction. That discovery at Cornell University in 1972 has led to new insights about the origins of the universe.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.