The Nobel Prizes - recognising world class excellence

BY J. CHEN

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish inventor, chemist, and engineer who used his expertise in iron
and steel to become a major weapons manufacturer. He was the inventor of dynamite.
After reading a premature obituary in a French newspaper which called him the merchant
of death , Nobel was disappointed that he might only be remembered for creating a
substance used to kill people and so decided to set aside 94% of his assets after his death
to establish the Nobel Prizes. These prizes are still being awarded each year for
outstanding contributions for humanity in chemistry, literature, peace, physics, physiology
or medicine . In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (the central bank of Sweden) established the
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Though not
originally included in Alfred Nobel s will, it is now considered to be one of the Nobel Prizes
awarded each year.
In October last year, the winners of the 2015 Nobel Prizes were announced. Here, we take a
look at who these important individuals are and how their work is significant.

Nobel Prize in Physics - awarded jointly to Takaaki Kajita and
Arthur B. McDonald.
IN BRIEF: DISCOVERY THAT NEUTRINOS CAN CHANGE FROM ONE “FLAVOUR” (FORM) TO
ANOTHER AND THAT THEY HAVE MASS

Neutrinos are tiny particles which exist all around us in the universe, but are extremely
difficult to detect as they travel at the speed of light and don’t touch many other particles.
These particles are smaller than atoms and pass through us all the time. Detectors built to
find them only find about 10-15 of these elusive particles in one year.
Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald were able to discover that these particles actually
had a mass and that they could change from one type to another. These discoveries are
crucial for allowing physicists to change their view of the universe and move away from the
standard model of physics. McDonald’s research allowed him and his team to examine
neutrinos coming from the sun and learn about what is going on in the sun’s core, allowing
physicists worldwide to gain more knowledge on how we could develop nuclear fusion and
use it to alleviate the world’s energy problems.
For an illuminating and easy to understand article about Kajita and McDonald’s work (explained
using GIFs), visit the Washington Post article at https://goo.gl/cBCK1Q.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry - awarded jointly to Tomas Lindahl, Paul
Modrich and Aziz Sancar.
IN BRIEF: THEY DISCOVERED THE BODY’S IMPORTANT MECHANISMS FOR REPAIRING ITS
DNA FROM ERRORS AND MUTATIONS.

The three scientists (from Sweden, the US and Turkey
respectively) won the prize for their important work into DNA
repair. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the genetic code which
gives all living things their characteristics and allows genetic
information to be passed on. DNA is replicated all the time for growth
and repair, and is crucial for our survival by ensuring that every cell
knows what to do. The genetic code is written in a sequence of bases: adenine,
cytosine, guanine and thymine. In a double helix DNA molecule, there are two
strands of nucleotides, each with a base (A, C, G or T) which are twisted and
separate during DNA replication. Guanine always bonds with cytosine and thymine always
bonds with adenine. These rules ensure that the genetic code can be transcribed and
translated and replicated correctly… most of the time.
These scientists discovered that DNA decay and the natural frequency of errors during DNA
processing were much higher than previously thought and that if this really was the case
during all stages of cell division, then life as we know it should not exist. This is because the
sheer amount of errors and mutations in the genetic code would mean that genetic
disorders and cancers would occur significantly more than they actually do. So what was
behind the discrepancy between the natural instability of the DNA and the actual relative
stability of our genetic makeup?
Enzymes are active proteins in our body which are essential for life to occur, as they control
our cell processes. The scientists were able to discover enzymes which were able to repair

DNA errors caused by decay, mutations caused by ultraviolet radiation and errors caused
by mismatching nucleotides during cell division. These crucial discoveries have resulted in
the exciting development of drugs and treatments against cancer. It was discovered that
cancerous cells also used these enzymes to repair the DNA of the malicious tumours,
ensuring the spread of the cancer. Lynparza is a drug which attacks the enzymes which are
used by ovarian cancer to repair itself.
The discoveries also have far-reaching impacts in terms of human ageing. Scientists
believe that we may be able to use these DNA repair enzymes to help slow down our
ageing or prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
For an in-depth article from the Royal Society of Chemistry about this, visit this link: http://goo.gl/
P8hVu4.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine - divided, one half jointly
to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, and the other half to
Youyou Tu.
IN BRIEF: THEY MADE DISCOVERIES WHICH HELPED DOCTORS FIGHT MALARIA AND
ROUNDWORM PARASITE INFECTIONS AROUND THE WORLD

Parasitic diseases are a threat to around a third of the world population.
Õmura and Campbell won the prize for their discovery of avermectin (left)
(the parent drug behind ivermectin), a treatment for roundworm parasites.
Dr. Õmura collected soil samples of streptomyces (a type of bacteria
predominantly found in soil and rotting vegetation, with an earthy smell),
and Dr. Campbell was able to identify one culture of which was highly effective
against parasites in domestic and farm animals. Their collective work leading on
from this discovery gave rise to new powerful anti-parasite treatments. These
treatments have proved highly effective against debilitating diseases such as
river blindness (nearly eradicating it) and many other parasitic diseases.
Dr. Tu, inspired by traditional Chinese medicine, was awarded for her work in
discovering artemisinin (right), a drug which has made an enormous impact in
malaria treatment worldwide and saved countless lives. At a time
when existing drugs became less and less effective due to the
parasites becoming resistant, the discovery of artemisinin really
was crucial. Dr. Tu consulted ancient Chinese texts and was able to
use sophisticated research methods to extract a drug from the Artemisia
herb, which had been used previously as a remedy but did not always work
as the boiling process would destroy the active ingredient. Dr. Tu was the first
to show that this ingredient was highly effective against the malaria parasite.
Both of these treatments, avermectin/ivermectin and artemisinin, are included in the World
Health Organisation’s (WHO) essential medicines list which are available free of charge or
at highly affordable prices for those people who need it most. These discoveries have
saved millions of lives across the world and have relieved much pain and suffering caused
by disease. As pathogens are becoming increasingly resistant, scientists and doctors are
working harder than ever to discover more effective treatments against diseases.

To read an illuminating article by Cosmos Magazine about these discoveries, visit this link: https://
goo.gl/29YPPO 


Nobel Prize in Literature - awarded to Svetlana Alexievich.
IN BRIEF: AWARDED FOR HER UNIQUE “POLYPHONIC” STYLE OF NON-FICTION WRITING
ABOUT HUMAN SUFFERING AND COURAGE

Only 3 writers had won the Nobel Prize in Literature for non-fiction before Alexievich:
Bertand Russell, Winston Churchill, and Jean-Paul Sartre (who declined the award). This
year, Alexievich, writer and investigative journalist, was awarded the prize for her distinctive
method of writing. In her writings about various world events such as the Chernobyl
disaster and the collapse of the Soviet Union, she compiles transcripts of interviews with
hundreds of survivors and eyewitnesses of these events. This style of writing has been
dubbed “polyphonic” writing or “epic chorus” and has been lauded as “a new kind of literary
genre”.
Born in Soviet Belarus, Alexievich has explored the inherent savagery of human nature
through interviewing women who fought in the Second World War and drawing attention to
the oppressive regimes and human suffering. She has given oppressed and suffering
people a voice. Her work currently cannot be published in her native homeland of Belarus,
where the citizens are said to live under “the last dictatorship of Europe” - which makes this
award so appropriate and so timely today.
To read a Vox article about Svetlana Alexievich’s work, follow this link: http://goo.gl/UafRmR. For a
(very tough) Guardian quiz on the Nobel Prize in Literature over the years, follow this link: http://
goo.gl/3KCrJ2

Nobel Peace Prize - awarded to National Dialogue Quartet
IN BRIEF: FOR THE QUARTET’S WORK IN BUILDING A DEMOCRACY IN TUNISIA AFTER THE
JASMINE REVOLUTION IN 2011

In December 2010, a series of street demonstrations in Tunisia against high
unemployment, lack of political freedom and poor living conditions led to the toppling of the
longtime president and resulted in a tumultuous period of violence and unrest. The
uprisings in Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring, which resulted in conflict across many Arab
countries - the impact is still being felt today, with the emergence of the so-called “Islamic
State”. The Arab Spring is argued to have led to many civil wars (for example in Syria) and
conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Some are even calling this period of unrest the
Arab Winter, as a contrast to the initial hope during the demonstrations and uprisings.
However, Tunisia has since held its first free presidential elections in 2014 and human
rights conditions have improved. The Nobel Committee believe that the National Dialogue
Quartet, a group of four Tunisian organisations (the Tunisian General Labour Union, the
Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights
League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers) were instrumental in the building of a pluralistic
democracy. A pluralistic democracy is a country where “people of different social classes,
religions, races, etc., are together in a society but continue to have their different traditions
and interests”, and where people can choose who is in power.
Many expected this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to awarded to be someone like Pope Francis
or Angela Merkel. But this award highlights that countries do have the potential to become
democracies and improve their human rights records through peaceful talks. At a time when
the country was highly unstable, discussion and dialogue helped to stabilise the situation
and improve the country for the better.
To read the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s press release about the Peace Prize award this year,
visit http://goo.gl/JkrsVj.

Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic
Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel awarded to Angus Deaton
IN BRIEF: FOR HIS WORK ON HEALTH, WELLBEING , MEASURING
POVERTY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Angus Deaton, born in Edinburgh and now a professor at Princeton University, won the
prize for his analysis of poverty, welfare and economic development. His speciality is
microeconomics - the study of smaller scale spending, saving and allocation of scarce
resources, as opposed to macroeconomics, which is more about countries and economies
and larger scale spending and sacing. His work answers the following three questions:


How do consumers distribute their spending among different goods?
How much of society's income is spent and how much is saved?
How do we best measure and analyse welfare and poverty?

Deaton developed the Almost Ideal Demand System, which is used regularly
by economists, explained the need to analyse individual choices to fully
understand consumption, and developed better ways of comparing the
extent of poverty.
Describing himself as "someone who's concerned with the poor of
the world and how people behave, and what gives them a good life”,
Professor Deaton’s work has increased our understanding of
poverty and welfare, and has shown that whilst GDP grows, many
groups of people miss out. His work has been described as
significant for efforts to reduce poverty in society, and has arguably
led to improved government efforts to tackle inequality in countries
such as India.
Read a Guardian article about Professor Deaton’s award here: http://goo.gl/ljjmKO

postscript
I encourage you to follow the links in the articles and go talk to a teacher about any of the issues in
this article in which you might be interested in. These important people have changed the world
through their dedicated research and hard work. Their achievements have improved the lives of
millions and are paving the way for a better future. I hope reading about these impressive men and
women will spark an interest in you about the issues of the world. As the young people of today, we
all have the potential to change the world for the better, be it in science, politics, economics, or any
other field.

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