The $8 an hour shuttle driver behind a Nobel Prize
Douglas Prasher, now a shuttle driver in Alabama, is the real brains behind a U.S. Nobel Prize win.
Aren't you momentarily stunned when your cab driver or your shuttle driver at Hertz or your local car dealership says something that really makes you think? Don't you wonder how someone so smart ended up driving you around?
Please, therefore, consider what it must be like to be Douglas Prasher.
Prasher, or as he should be known, Dr. Prasher, makes around $8 an hour as a courtesy shuttle driver for an Alabama car dealer. And he's been stunned to hear that the fruits of his work have led to a Nobel Prize for chemistry--which just happened to be awarded to two other scientists.
A couple of years ago, Prasher was involved in a slightly different kind of shuttle--the one occasionally shot up by NASA. And a few years before that, in 1992 to be precise, he isolated the gene that makes jellyfish glow in the dark. At the time, he believed this discovery could be used to study some of humankind's most debilitating diseases. He was right.
It's just that at the very moment he made his breakthrough, his funding, which had once come from the American Cancer Society, ran out.
He could have kept his work to himself. Instead, he mailed a couple of test tubes to Roger Tsien at the University of California and Martin Chalfie at Columbia University.
"It was more important to me to hand over the tool to other scientists with the funding than to have individual glory," Prasher told London's Daily Mail.
So how did he end up driving those nice folks in Alabama to and from Bill Penney's excellent and, no doubt, munificent Toyota dealership?
"After I gave up my work on the jellyfish, I eventually found another dream job, with the U.S. space program, but I was laid off in 2006 and I haven't been able to get another scientific position," Prasher said.
Prasher has three children and, apparently, had just taken out a large mortgage when he was laid off by NASA. But is it really possible that someone with so much evident ability can't get a more appropriate position in America's scientific community than helping to shift a Scion?
It's not as if Chalfie and Tsien don't concede Prasher's role. Tsien even sent him an e-mail to apologize. But doesn't Prasher deserve something more than a little acknowledgment?
If this were a movie--and perhaps it will be--Chalfie and Tsien would visit Prasher and offer him a cut of the $1.5 million Nobel Prize.
And then, in the last scene, he would get another knock on his door--a new sponsor to finance his future research. That sponsor would be Toyota, wouldn't it?
You're going to tell me life isn't like the movies, right?