“Growing up in Scotland, you learn how to talk and you learn how to tell a joke and you can get to a punchline… you can convey ideas quickly.

“So we were able to convey to people that this was actually a pretty interesting and valuable concept that people could use in science and it certainly helped my career… but it wouldn’t have happened if I was not Scottish,” so said David MacMillan, crediting his winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Benjamin List last week to his Scottish education. A pupil at New Stevenston Primary School and Bellshill Academy, he did his undergraduate degree at Glasgow University, which was the foundation for “everything I have become as a scientist and a person”.

My husband, Professor Sir James Mirrlees (Nobel Laureate 1996 in Economic Sciences) who was born in Minnigaff, Galloway, would have agreed, going to primary school in Newton Stewart and Douglas-Ewart High School. He depended on bursaries and prize money to pursue an undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University.

Richard Henderson (Nobel Laureate 2017 in Chemistry) has a similar story – attending Newcastleton Primary near Hawick, Hawick High and Boroughmuir High in Edinburgh, before an undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University.

To date, 18 Scots have been awarded Nobel Prizes since they were inaugurated in 1901.

According to Richard Henderson, this is 25 times greater than the world-average per capita, with only Switzerland and Austria coming close.

In 1902, a year after the Nobel Prizes were established, Sir Ronald Ross, of Shandwick, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on malaria. He is the grandfather of the current chief of Clan Ross. Since Ross, Scots have been awarded Nobel Prizes in every category except Literature, although the great Gaelic poet Sorley Maclean was nominated for that in 1992.

In the past nine years, between 2013 and 2021, there have been eight Scottish Nobel Laureates, an achievement for a country that has a small population of about 5.5 million people.

In one year alone, 2016, four of the Nobel Laureates were Scottish. All these achievements should have been a cause for national celebration.

David MacMillan’s award spotlights the fact that Scotland has been very successful in producing Nobel Laureates but has failed in giving them national recognition.

Alfred Nobel in Scotland and the 18 Scottish Nobel Laureates are a valuable part of Scotland’s heritage that has been overlooked for too long. Celebrating Nobel’s Scottish connections and our Scottish Nobel Laureates would raise Scotland’s image as a hub of science and discovery and encourage young Scots to realise that everything is possible – that there are no limits to their potential.

So what can Scotland do to honour its Nobel Laureates? Here are a few suggestions: l create The Scottish Nobel Fund to help finance a series of initiatives to highlight the achievements of the Scottish Nobel Laureates and the life of Alfred Nobel in Scotland; l have a permanent display area dedicated to the Scottish Nobel Laureates in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

In 2007, a portrait of my husband was presented to the Gallery. On show for only a few months, it was put in storage for a decade. It was displayed again in December 2018, after his death that year.

Sir Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, at the unveiling of Jim’s portrait pointed out: “This Gallery is the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery, opened in 1889 and championed by the historian Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that ‘Historical Portrait Galleries far transcend in worth all other kinds of National Collections of Pictures whatever’. Scotland led the way and continues to do so.”

After the death of Scottish Nobel Laureate David Thouless in April 2019, collecting the portraits of all the living Scottish Laureates became a priority.

The Gallery had commissioned portraits of some of the Scottish Laureates when the coronavirus pandemic put everything on hold.

When Jim received the Nobel Prize in 1996, he said he was both delighted and a little embarrassed at all the attention. Jim had an exceptional mind, and he was also exceptionally modest – embodying the values of small-town Scotland where you worked hard and lived without ostentation.

Only after Jim’s death, I found in an old file box marked “Nobel stuff” a pile of letters he had received when the Prize was announced. Among the “Nobel stuff”, was a letter from Margaret Wilson, an old classmate at Douglas-Ewart High. She wrote: “Was it really August 1947 that my mother told me on the evening of my first day at school that you would be the Dux of that year’s intake and added, ‘that boy will go far’? This bewildered me – I did not realise she was talking in terms of what you would achieve academically. I thought she meant you might go to the United States.”

Another idea would be to have an interactive display in one area of the National Museum of Scotland.

Jim’s Nobel medal will go to the National Museum, which has been displaying the Nobel medals of Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir James Black and Lord John Boyd-Orr on three different floors in glass cases.

Instead, feature all the Scottish Laureates in one area using audio visual technology, interactive display boards, photographs and medals, if donated. The recent Scottish Laureates could record their stories in their own words. Scottish actors could narrate the history of those deceased. That way, Scottish children and other visitors could learn more about the Laureates and their discoveries.

Few of the Scottish Laureates have blue plaques in Scotland. Several, such as Sir Alexander Fleming, are honoured by them in England. Dr David Hannay, chief of Clan Hannay, has organised with the Galloway Preservation Society for a blue plaque to be placed on the cottage where Jim was born in Minnigaff.

Let’s create an “Alfred Nobel in Scotland Centre” with a guided tour of the Ardeer Peninsula in Ayrshire.

We should reopen Irvine’s The Big Idea, closed in 2003, as the Nobel in Scotland Centre, focusing on the life and work of Alfred Nobel and his vast factory at Ardeer – which employed 13,000 people at its height – his life in Scotland, and his legacy of the Nobel Prizes, showcasing all Nobel Laureates and highlighting the Scottish ones.

Alfred Nobel took out a British patent for his dynamite in 1867. Failing to start a factory in England, Nobel, in April 1871 – 150 years ago this year – established his British Dynamite Company Ltd (later Nobel’s Explosives Company Ltd) at Ardeer with the backing of John Downie, the general manager of the Glasgow firm, Fairfield Engineering and Shipbuilding Company. The records are in Glasgow University archives.

In a letter to his brother in 1871, Nobel wrote: “Picture to yourself everlasting bleak sand dunes with no buildings. Only rabbits find a little nourishment here… It is a sand desert where the wind always blows often howls filling the ears with sand. Between us and America, there is nothing but water – a sea whose mighty waves are always raging and foaming. Without work the place would be intolerable.”

Other parts of Scotland have a connection to Nobel. Some of the rock powder required in the factory process was found in Skye and Aberdeenshire. Nobel bought the Westquarter Chemical Company, near Falkirk, to produce detonators and established another nearby at Redding Moor to supply that with fulminate.

He also acquired facilities at Irvine harbour to export his explosives. He bought, as his base in Scotland, Hawthorn Cottage, 1 Polmont Road, Laurieston, from his chief chemist George McRoberts. It is still standing.

As well as the centre, visitors could have a guided tour of the ruined site of the Nobel factory on the Ardeer Peninsula and explore its areas of biodiversity.

To celebrate this, surely day tours for visitors to the National Museum of Scotland, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Alfred Nobel in Scotland Centre, the site of the old Ardeer factory and the Ardeer Peninsula. This would be a boost to Ayrshire tourism, which already attracts visitors to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum at Alloway and Culzean Castle.

Annual lectures could also be established, one for universities and another for schools, to be given by a Nobel Laureate of any nationality in Scotland’s seven cities in rotation.

Finally, why not have a Nobel Laureates woodland? Wangari Maathai (Nobel Laureate, Peace Prize 2004) planted a tree when she learned she had been awarded the prize.

The Nobel Laureates should be a source of national pride and all have left a legacy that should be remembered for ever more.