Martin D. Kamen, Whose Discovery of 14C Changed Plant Biology as Well as Archaeology

Historical Perspectives on Plant Science

On August 27, 2018, Martin Kamen would have been 105 years old; we celebrate his life and work here. Many of us remember him fondly as a brilliant, engaging, friendly, cheerful person, one with a wide range of talents, and one who always had a spark of originality. His talents as a musician (top viola player and child prodigy in music), a writer (par excellence), and a topmost scientist are known to many of us. We think he should have received the Nobel Prize for his discovery of long-lived carbon-14, first described in 1940 (Ruben and Kamen, 1940). Use of 14C has led not only to the discovery of the path of carbon fixation in photosynthesis (the Calvin–Benson cycle, 1961 Nobel Prize to Melvin Calvin; see Benson, 2002), but also to a revolution in archaeology in dating materials of ancient times (1960 Nobel Prize to Willard Libby), including the Shroud of Turin. See Figure 1 for a portrait of Martin Kamen.

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