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Big honor for small town: Two Alice natives are Nobel Laureates

Big honor for small town: two Alice natives are Nobel Laureates
Posted at 6:21 PM, Jul 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-17 20:34:28-04

ALICE, Texas — No matter from which direction you enter the Alice city limits, you'll likely see a billboard recognizing an interesting fact about that Jim Wells County town.

Alice is the birthplace of two winners of the Nobel Prize -- Dr. Robert Curl in 1996 and Dr. James Allison in 2018.

There have been fewer than 1,000 so-called Nobel Laureates worldwide in the 120 year history of the award.

“I guess it’s a coincidence, but there might be something in the water," Curl joked.

“Some people say, ‘Maybe it’s in the water, or maybe it’s in the mosquitoes," Allison quipped.

Both scientists may be Alice-natives, but their experiences there are quite different.

Curl was born in Alice, but his family moved away soon after his second birthday. He hasn't been back to visit, but he has seen a picture of the billboards.

"It looks nice," Curl said. "I appreciate it. It’s one of the more fun acknowledgments of the prize."

He and a colleague at Rice University won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering a molecule that's now used in nanotechnology, even though it took several years to find that use for it.

“Science moves kind of slowly," Curl said. "Some things get converted for practical use pretty early, and other things take awhile."

Allison won the Nobel Prize in medicine for developing a treatment in which the human body's natural immune system attacks cancer cells. He says it's now used all over the world on hundreds of thousands of patients.

"I always hoped to do something — you know, leave the world a better place from having been here," Allison said. "I think I’ve done it in my own small way. It feels good."

Unlike Curl, Allison was raised in Alice, graduating from Alice High School in 1965.

“I was lucky in that I had several teachers and several counselors that really recognized something in me, and helped me get into special programs," he said.

Both Nobel Laureates now live in the Houston-area, but they're thankful for their Alice roots.

“I’m grateful to the City of Alice for the billboard," Curl said. "I hope it encourages the young people of Alice to get interested in science.”

“I'm sort of proud of it," Allison said. "It’s where I came from, and they would be proud enough of me to put my ugly face on a sign everybody sees coming into town."