I’m a bit late with this since I haven’t had time due to exams, but let’s do this anyway. So, in the interest of maintaining some sort of intellectual, scientific awareness, I’m here to provide you with some “cheat notes” about this year’s Nobel Prize Winners (laureates). Feel free to use these notes to sound intelligent in conversation. I tried to keep the explanation simple; apologies if it’s a little hard to follow.
2012 Nobel Laureates:
Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”. Basically, their research used electric fields to trap individual ions, and used laser beams to analyse their behaviour, allowing precise measurement of ions and photons. This relates to the field of quantum mechanics (dealing with the smallest of particles).
Two relevant problems in quantum mechanics are superpositioning, in which particles can exist in several states at the same time (like being in two or more places at once), and entanglement, in which separate particles share a link (this was explained in the post about Teleportation). As you can see, quantum mechanics runs into a lot of problems with precise measurement due to these problems (and more, including Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). The methodology used by Haroche and Wineland takes us closer towards building quantum computers, amongst other things.
Some of you might be wondering why the Higg’s Boson discovery wasn’t awarded the Nobel Prize. There’s a bit of a story behind this which I’ll post later, but the gist of it is that it’s too early to determine the implications, application and veracity of the Higg’s Boson, but it’s quite likely that it will win the Nobel Prize for physics some time in the near future.
Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for “studies of G-protein-coupled receptors” which are dubbed “smart receptors on cell surfaces”. Using radioactivity (starting from 1968), Lefkowitz traced cell receptors and identified a family of receptors known as “G-protein-coupled receptors”. These enable cells to react to their environment, and are one of the most common receptors coded for by our genes.
The identification and understanding of the G-protein-coupled receptor has many applications when considering about half of all medications achieve their effect through these receptors.
Sir John B. Gurdon, Shinya Yamanaka for “the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”. This one is a lot easier to explain. Basically, they discovered that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature “blank” cells that can develop into any tissue of the body. This not only broadens our understanding of cell and organism development, but perhaps one day will allow us to regrow vital organs, etc. (it’s possible but that’s not the focus of this Prize).
Now I realise that this isn’t science related, but I felt like I should include this because the winner, Mo Yan, is actually a relative of mine (on my mother’s side). Seems like there is some sort of artistic talent in my family besides myself (since my parents are PhD scientists, sometimes I feel like there’s no art).
Mo Yan, “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”, is the first ever Chinese literature Nobel Laureate.