Three Local Academics Receive Nobel Prizes; Win for Economics, Physics, chemistry.(PAGE ONE)

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Byline: Scott Galupo and Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Metropolitan Washington is rich with Nobel Prize winners this year, with three local academics winning the prestigious awards for economics, physics and chemistry.

Vernon L. Smith, head of the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science at George Mason University in Arlington, will receive half of the $1.06 million Nobel Prize for groundbreaking experiments on the psychological aspects of economic decision-making. He will share the prize money with Princeton University's Daniel Kahneman.

"I found out at 9:30 this morning," Mr. Smith, 75, said in a phone interview yesterday. "They wanted to assure me it wasn't a hoax. I'd been hearing rumors that I was going to win since 1980."

John Fenn, 85, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, was awarded the prize for chemistry yesterday.

He will share half the prize with Koichi Tanaka of Japan, with whom Mr. Fenn produced breakthroughs in the late 1980s by enhancing an analysis technique called mass spectrometry, which lets scientists rapidly identify a substance through its mass. Kurt Wuethrich of Switzerland will receive the other half of the million-dollar prize.

Riccardo Giacconi, president of a local nonprofit group that manages the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, will share the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering X-ray emissions in space and for pioneering the use of radio telescopes.

He will receive half the $1.06 million, while two other scientists - Raymond Davis Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania and Masatoshi Koshiba of Japan - will split the other half.

Mr. Giaconni, 71, head of District-based nonprofit Associated Universities Inc., was notified by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday. "I told my wife it's either a joke or I've won a Nobel," said the Italian-born physicist.

A pioneer in experimental economics, Mr. Smith is now in the company of James Buchan-an, another GMU economist, who won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his economic decision-making analysis.

Mr. Smith's work squares with the Reagan-era supply-side worldview, which is critical of excessive government interference in the free market.

"Our work does provide a lot of evidence that markets work very well and that people ought to leave them alone," said Mr. Smith, who described himself as neither conservative nor liberal. "Without markets, people can't specialize and satisfy all their needs."

Even when individuals don't have what economists call "perfect information," markets still function effectively, he said.

The new Nobel laureate said the economic volatility of the past couple of years has prompted him to study the interaction between management decision-making and equity market activity.

Mr. Fenn is a professor of analytical chemistry at VCU, wooed there in 1994 after a 27-year stint at Yale University by the promise of laboratory space for a mass spectrometer. …