The Isaac Winners

Adding a Dimension,
by Isaac Asimov.

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Isaac Asimov’s birth. Regular readers of this blog know that Asimov had a huge impact on my decision to become a scientist. Although his name never appears in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, his influence is on every page.

From 1959 to 1992, Asimov wrote a monthly essay for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Of all his writings, this series of essays was his favorite (and mine too). Each time he completed seventeen essays he would collect them in a book. One of these collections, Adding a Dimension, ended with an essay about his list of the ten greatest scientists.

The only scientist who, it seemed to me, indubitably belonged to the list and who would, without a doubt, be on such a list prepared by anyone but a consummate idiot, was Isaac Newton.

But how to choose the other nine?

Asimov needed a name for these awards.

I would be false to current American culture if I did not give the ten winners a named award… To go along with the Oscar, Emmy, Edgar, and Hugo, let us have the Isaac.

In a footnote, he added

If anyone has some wild theory that the choice of the name derives from any source other than Newton, let him try to prove it.

Below I list the Isaac winners in alphabetical order, and note which appear in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

Half of the Isaac Award winners appear in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Not bad.

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov.

In honor of Asimov’s centenary, yesterday I reread I, Robot, one of his best science fiction books. Delightful. I’ve read The Foundation Trilogy several times, and I’ve enjoyed his many short stories such as the classic “ Nightfall.” I’m not sure how many Asimov books I’ve read, but probably on the order of a hundred.

If you want to learn more about Asimov, read the essay “ Asimov at 100: From Epic Space Operas to Rules for Robots, the Prolific Author’s Literary Legacy Endures,” by James Gunn. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, I took a science fiction class taught by Gunn; the topic of my term paper was Asimov’s future history.

In Memory Yet Green:
The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov.

I’ll close with the description of Asimov’s birth from In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov (his 200th book).

When my mother went into labor, there was no one to help her, therefore, but a midwife, and the process took three days and two nights, during much of which she walked the floor, leaning on my father. The result of all that was myself, and I was named Isaac after my mother’s dead father. (A Jewish child is, by tradition, named after a dead relative.)

The date of my birth, as I celebrate it, was January 2, 1920. It could not have been later than that. It might, however, have been earlier. Allowing for the uncertainties of the times, of the lack of records, of the Jewish and Julian calendars, it might have been as early as October 4, 1919. There is, however, no way of finding out. My parents were always uncertain and it really doesn’t matter.

I celebrate January 2, 1920, so let it be.

Happy birthday, Isaac Asimov.

Listen to “Nightfall,” a short story by Isaac Asimov.

Originally published at http://hobbieroth.blogspot.com.

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Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

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Brad Roth

Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

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