By Scott Hamilton
Every year in the early to mid-October time frame, the scientific community votes the nominees for the Nobel prizes. I am always interested in what the new scientific break-through is that earns a person the Nobel prize in their field of study, so naturally I look forward to the announcements. Sometimes I understand the science behind the prize and sometimes the topic is too advanced. This year the only two I was able to easily describe were the prizes in Physics and Chemistry.
Pierre Agonstini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Hullier share the prize this year for Physics. The threesome achieved something that was deemed to be impossible just a few years ago. They managed to create ultra-short pulses of light that enabled them to take a snapshot of changes within atoms.
Eva Olsson, from the Nobel Prize in Physics Selection Committee said, “The ability to generate attosecond pulses of light has opened the door on a tiny, extremely tiny, time scale and it’s also opened the door to the world of electrons.”
In other words they achieved flashing a light fast enough to record the real path of electrons around the nucleus of an atom; for those who want the actual number it is 10-18 which an extremely short pulse of light.
I don’t know how much high-school chemistry you remember, but we learned that their were different bands in which electrons traveled around the nucleus of an atom. The main thing that has changed, at least since I was in high-school, is that Rutherford’s model of the atom has been modified to introduce the effects of quantum mechanics on electrons. Agnositini and company were able to confirm quite a bit of the latest theory through their observations of atoms, but the most important part of their discovery was the link to medicine. They found that by studying the atoms in the blood with their new snapshot technology, they could make it possible to detect disease earlier… maybe even before a patient has observable symptoms.
Interestingly enough the Nobel Prize for Chemistry also has medicinal uses. Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Aleksey Ekimov won the prize this year for their discovery of quantum dots. Quantum dots are tiny clusters of atoms which are widely used to create the colors in flat screen televisions. If you are reading this on my website, or any other online source, you are using this technology and probably didn’t even know it. These quantum dots allow surgeons to more easily see blood vessels in tumors by providing varying frequencies, or colors, of light. The academy said that their research led to quantum dots so small that they could fit as many in a football field as we could fit football fields on the earth.
The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine went to Hungarian scientist Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their research in messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Kariko is the former senior vice-president of BioNTech, which developed the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in conjunction with Pfizer. Their technology allowed for more rapid develop of vaccines than previously thought possible. What I find interesting about this particular prize is that it was awarded for the use of a technology that was originally discovered in 1958 by Ken Volin at Oak Ridge National Lab, and it also seems to rewrite history, as Robert W. Malone of the Salk Institute discovered in-vitro and in-vivo RNA transfection and invented the mRNA vaccines in 1988. Malone is widely outspoken against the use of mRNA vaccines as he claims they permanently alter the host DNA.
The Nobel Prize for Literature went to Jon Fosse for his heavily pared down style of writing novels. The style is know as “Fosse minimalism.” It was also rewarded in part for his nearly 1,000 play production and his works in “new Norwegian” that have been translated into 40 different languages. Swedish Academy member Anders Olsson said Fosse’s work “touches on the deepest feelings that you have, anxieties, insecurities, questions of life and death …. It has a sort of universal impact.”
The Nobel Peace Prize this year went to Narges Mohammadi, an imprisoned Iranian women’s right activist. Mohammadi is serving multiple sentences in Tehran, adding up to 12 years of imprisonment for crimes including propaganda against the state. Her life’s work is dedicated to the fight against oppression of women in Iran. She is the deputy head of Defenders of Human Rights Center, an NGO led by Shirin Ebadi, the Peace Prize winner from 2003.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to email@example.com or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.