Marie Curie (r), her husband Pierre (c) and professor Petit (l) working in their laboratory in Paris in 1900. If Sir Tim Hunt had had his way, she would never have been there Getty Images

A British Nobel Prize winner has sparked outrage in the scientific community for suggesting that women should stay out of the lab because they distract men.

Sir Tim Hunt, 72, who won the Nobel Prize for in Physiology or Medicine in 2001 - a self-described "chauvinist pig" - also claimed that women cried when they were criticised.

The Times reported that Hunt told a conference in Korea: "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry."

The comments were reported to the paper by Connie St Louis, a science journalism lecturer at City University, London.

She said that Hunt was giving a toast at a lunch hosted by female Korean scientists, and his words were taken as anything but a joke. "Suddenly he jumped up and said he was a chauvinist pig," St Louis said. "They were horrified, really horrified. Some people laughed nervously. Some just sat there and put their heads in their hands. It was so awful, and worse he was British."

Hunt is a fellow of the Royal Society, and his colleagues distanced themselves from him. Uta Frith, a neuroscientist, tweeted: "We're all upset by Tim Hunt's chauvinist remarks."

The Royal Society also distanced itself from Hunt. "Science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population," a spokesman told The Times. "Too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the Royal Society is committed to helping to put this right. Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual."

The Times noted that It was not clear what the scientist Mary Collins thought about the comments. The professor of immunology at University College London, is also Hunt's wife.