So it’s award season in the scientific world………and it’s a biggie….The Nobel Prize. Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace, and from 1968 the Sveriges Riksbank Prize for Economic Sciences was also introduced. Winners take home a medal, a diploma and a big fat cheque for 10m Swedish Kronor (~£800,000)…oh and the small bonus of international recognition for your life’s hard work.
So this year the science gongs go to:
- Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine; jointly to Elizabeth H. Blackburn (University of California, USA), Carol W. Greider (John Hopkins University, USA) and Jack W. Szostak (Harvard Medical School, USA) for the discovery of “how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”
- Nobel Prize for Physics; half to Charles K. Kao (Standard Telecommunication Technologies and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong) for “groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication” and half shared between William S. Boyle and George E. Smith (both from Bell Laboratories, USA) for “the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit- the CCD sensor”
- Nobel Prize for Chemistry; jointly to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology Cambridge, UK), Thomas A. Steitz (Yale University, USA) and Ada E. Yonath (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel) for “studies of the structure and function of the ribosome”.
In layman’s terms that is;
- Physiology of Medicine; understanding how the ends of DNA molecules are maintained (“just like the plastic tips on shoelaces”) which has important implications for cancer and ageing.
- Physics; revolutionising modern communications by transmitting light along glass fibres over huge distances (it’s how we get our broadband) and the CCD is the eye of digital cameras (it’s in the camera in our mobile phones).
- Chemistry; understanding the mechanism of how cells make proteins, which is absolutely fundamental to life.
Now, let’s not forget the other important prize of the year…..The Ig Nobel’s (the website alone is worth a look for the picture of Nobel Laureates wearing one of this year’s inventions, a bra/facemask, and a video about the first recorded case of a homosexual necrophiliac duck….yes really).
The “Igs” are awarded to scientists whose work “first makes people laugh, and then makes people think”. This year’s highlights include prizes for:
- Peace; shared between Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael J. Thali and Beat P. Kneubuehl from the University of Bern (Switzerland), for their work on whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full or empty bottle of beer.
- Veterinary Medicine; shared between Catherine Douglas (nee Bertenshaw) and Peter Rowlinson from Newcastle University (UK), for their work showing that dairy cows given a name produce more milk.
- Physics; shared between Katherine K. Whitcome (University of Cincinnatti, USA), Daniel E. Lieberman (Harvard University, USA) and Liza J. Shapiro (University of Texas, USA), for their analysis of how pregnant women stay upright and don’t topple over all the time.
- Biology; shared between Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei from Kitasato University (Japan) for their work showing that bacteria from giant panda poo can reduce kitchen waste mass by 90%.