SciTech

Nobel committee announces winners

The Swedish Nobel committee announced the winners of the Nobel Prize last week. The winners of each category share an approximately $1.2 million prize.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James E. Rothman of Yale University; Randy W. Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley; and Thomas C. Südhof of Stanford University. According to the committee, the award was granted based on their “discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”
Vesicles are necessary for the transportation of molecules within our cells; think of a vesicle as a bus or cart, carrying precious passengers like insulin through the cell. How vesicles were able to pick up and drop off this cargo at the correct time, however, largely remained a mystery. Schekman’s research focused mainly on the genes necessary for vesicle transport. Rothman provided insight into the necessary proteins needed for vesicle docking and fusion, and Südhof looked at the chemical signals that told the vesicles when to release their cargo.

Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was shared by François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles — located in Brussels, Belgium — and Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, U.K. They received the award due to their theoretical proposal of “a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles,” which was proven in 2012. This is often referred to as the Higgs boson.

In the ’60s, Englert and Higgs both independently proposed a theory of how particles gain mass. This theory was an integral part of the standard model of particle physics, which states that everything in the universe is made up of matter particles. The Higgs boson is the particle associated with an invisible field that takes up all space. This invisible field is necessary for existence, as particles acquire mass only by interacting with this field. In 2012, scientists were able to detect the existence of the Higgs particle.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Martin Karplus of the Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University; Michael Levitt of Stanford University; and Arieh Warshel of University of Southern California. Their work was recognized by the Nobel committee “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”
This trio of scientists is being praised for its work on computer programs — which started in the ’70s — that can help predict and record chemical processes. Because chemical reactions can happen at a fraction of a second, creating a program that would be able to map them out in real time was a daunting challenge. The immense importance of these programs is especially visible in drug development. In the past, researchers had to test reactions on model organisms such as mice; now they can simply see what happens on a computer screen.