OTD: Canadian biochemist wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

On today’s date in 1993, British-born Canadian biochemist Dr. Michael Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with U.S. biochemist Kary Mullis.

Their groundbreaking work in molecular biology included “contributions to the developments of methods within DNA-based chemistry,” according to the duo’s citation. Smith was awarded “for his fundamental contributions to the establishment of oligonucleotide-based, site-directed mutagenesis and its development for protein studies” and Mullis “for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.”

In 2004, Smith was featured on a 49-cent stamp (Scott #2062) issued by Canada Post as part of its “Nobel Prize Winners” issue (SC #2061-62), which also featured Gerhard Herzberg (SC #2061). Designed by Paul Haslip, of HM&E Communications, the stamp depicts a black-and-white profile alongside a coloured DNA double helix and alphabet, alongside a grayscale photograph of Smith.

“As graphic artists, we work with a visual language, and we’re always looking for recognizable images that we can use in our own way,” said Haslip. “I realized that this kind of image would show the newness and creativity involved in scientific discovery.”

Smith was commemorated on a se-tenant pair (SC #

Smith is commemorated on a se-tenant pair alongside fellow scientist Gerhard Herzberg.


Bill Danard, then-manager of stamp products, said: “The vivid colours here aptly represent the activity of the mind.”

The colours also have a specific relation to Smith’s field: because he worked in genetics, his portrait shows the double helix alongside the letters that represent the chemical building blocks of the genetic code. The stamps were printed in eight colours with a pearlescent silver ink adding a reflective sheen; however, there’s more here than meets the eye.

“We wanted to emphasize the unseen qualities of the science because both men studied phenomena invisible to the naked eye,” said Haslip.

The genetic letters above Smith’s black-and-white profile are both overprinted with blue fluorescent ink, which is invisible in normal light but fluoresces when exposed to ultraviolet light. This stamp, which was printed by Lowe-Martin on Tullis Russell coated paper, has regular, four-sided tagging that fluoresces yellow-green under ultraviolet light.

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