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Nobel Prizes 2016

By Shlomo Maital


This year’s Nobel Prize winners:

       Medicine/Physiology: Yoshinori Ohsumi, Japanese cell biologist. He discovered how cells recycle their wastes – an amazing and complex process that keeps cells from choking on garbage. Ohsumi asked a question that intrigued him, but that interested few others…

       Economics: Oliver Hart (Harvard) and Bengt Holmstrom (MIT): contract theory. Especially “incomplete contracts”.   See Hart’s American Economic Review 2001 article on financial contracting — enlightening, especially for Venture Capital.

       Physics:   David Thouless, F. Duncan Haldane, J. Michael Kosterlitz.   Their mathematics (based on topology) revealed insights into ‘extreme state’ matter (e.g. very low temperatures, super-cooled, etc.), and may lead to important new products, perhaps in semiconductors and computing.

       Chemistry:   Jean-Pierre Sauvage, J. Fraser Stoddart, Bernard Feringa:   synthesis of molecular machines. These tiny machines, the size of a single molecule, can do actual mechanical work. Also may lead to important innovations one day.

       Note the common denominator: Willingness to ask really good questions, questions others aren’t asking,   ability to take risks in research, tackle very challenging hard problems, and in some cases, defy the establishment by choosing a research direction others think is a dead end.

   And the Peace Prize? To Colombian President Santos, and the peace agreement that ended 50 years of senseless civil war. We learn from Colombia what we already know, from Britain’s Brexit vote – beware of referendums, you cannot be sure what they will yield.   Colombia will revote its peace agreement, narrowly defeated in a referendum, and gain approval. But Britain? Britain will leave the EU, for certain, a result very few expected, with major consequences for Europe and the world.  


Too Small to See? A Nobel for 3 Who Pioneered

By Shlomo Maital

  Nobel chemisry

The 2014 Nobel Prize for chemistry was won by two Americans and a German: Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner. Their work greatly extended our vision into the smallest of molecules, in part enabling nanotechnology.

     Hell, born in Romania, heads a Max Planck Institute in Gottingen, Germany. Moerner is from Stanford University; and Betzig, from the Howard Hughes Institute in Virginia.

   According to CNN: “Back in 1873, science believed it had reached a limit in how much more of a detailed picture a microscope could provide. At the time, microscopist Ernst Abbe said the maximum resolution had been attained.”   As with so many Nobel prizes, the three winners simply did not accept the statement, “we’ve reached the limit —   no more can be done.”

   The three scientists, according to the Nobel Prize Committee, did this: “….Due to their achievements, the optical microscope can now peer into the nanoworld,” the committee said.   “The importance can’t be overemphasized: Now, scientists can see how proteins in fertilized eggs divide into embryos, or they can track proteins involved in Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases.”    

   Betzig and Moerner found a way to make single molecules ‘glow’ using fluorescent microscopy.   Hell found a way to use two laser beams to make the molecules glow.   This is creative thinking. Rather than conventionally illuminate molecules with photons, why not make the molecules themselves into little ‘lamps’?

     “Guesswork has turned into hard facts and obscurity has turned into clarity,” the Nobel Committee added.   The work of the three has “blurred the boundary between chemistry and biology”, by enabling us to see right inside single molecules.

   Thank you, scientists!

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
January 2019
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