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Putting in the time pays off, research shows

Are you feeling over the hill, like your best days are in the past and you're unlikely to leave a big mark on the world?

After all, Albert Einstein wrote his landmark papers that revolutionized our understanding of time and space when he was in his 20s.

But don't despair. A new look at Nobel Prize winners suggests that today's great minds are doing their best work at a much later age.

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"The image of the brilliant young scientist who makes critical breakthroughs in science is increasingly outdated," said a co-author of the study, Bruce Weinberg of Ohio State University.

Dr. Weinberg, along with Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University, analyzed all the Nobel Prizes handed out between 1901 and 2008 in the fields of physics, chemistry and medicine. They also did extensive biographical checks to determine the age at which the great ones made their big breakthroughs.

The review revealed that before 1901, two-thirds of the Nobel laureates did their prize-winning work before the age of 40 and 20 per cent did it before age 30. By 2000, however, great achievements seldom occurred before age 40, according the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So what accounts for this shift toward grey-haired scholars? It's now taking longer for scientists to get their basic training and start their careers, said Dr. Weinberg. There is simply more to learn because knowledge in these fields has grown by quantum leaps in the past century. Furthermore, Nobels are being handed out for different types of work than a century ago. There has been a trend away from awarding prizes for abstract, theoretical ideas. Now more honours are being bestowed on people who have made discoveries through painstaking lab work and experimentation – which takes a lot of time to do.

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