SciTech Bulletin 2.7
A special edition of your fortnightly dose of everything science and technology: Volume 2 Issue 7
Every edition of the SciTech Bulletin seeks to unearth the latest inventions and discoveries in science & technology, and present it to you on a delectable plate. This edition, we have a chef’s special as we take a look at the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize over the six categories and their monumental contributions to their respective fields, which earned them the prestigious award.
The Nobel prize for Physics, 2017 was shared by Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne for “decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”. They received the prize for the discovery of gravitational waves released by violent events in the universe such as the mergers of black holes.
What makes gravitation waves so significant is the possibility of gravitational wave astronomy. Gravitational wave astronomy is a way of mapping out some of the most violent processes in the universe, such as black hole or neutron star mergers, that cannot be detected by conventional methods. These waves, first predicted by Einstein almost 100 years ago and now successfully detected, can pave the way for proving the general theory of relativity, and give scientists all over the world a deeper insight into how our universe came into being.
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 2017 was awarded to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson. They were commended for having developed a microscopy technology which has revolutionised biochemistry. They created a ‘cryogenic’ microscope that is used to produce highly detailed 3D pictures of living cells which can be greatly used for the creation of cancer-treatment drugs.
Traditional electron microscopy included several trade-offs while attempting to create an accurate image of the cell, only to leave with a two-dimensional image of the same. The electron beam, which was focused on the specimen to be examined, would destroy the cells and only dead cells could be studied under conventional e-microscopes. However, Jacques discovered that, by rapidly cooling the specimen to around -150 °C, water would form a shell without freezing. In this way, biomolecules could retain their natural shape even in vacuum. In recent times, this innovation was used to image the Zika virus; the virus which was causing the brain-damaged newborn epidemic in Brazil. This technology has proven to be of great potential especially in the field of cancer treatment, and is still at its budding stage.
Physiology or Medicine
Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking discoveries unraveled in their study of the circadian rhythm or biological clock. This 24-hour clock is matched to the rotations of the earth around its axis and predicts and controls the timing of peaks in hormone levels, temperature and metabolism. They “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings”, quoted the Nobel Prize Committee in a press release. By 1984, Hall and Rosbah isolated the ‘period’ gene which controls the circadian rhythms in fruit flies. The trio discovered explanations on how circadian rhythms are created and sustained. There are emerging studies on how each of us has our own genetically predetermined ‘chronotype’ which could separate the early birds from the night owls. They could even affect when medicines are metabolised because of varying levels of effectiveness, depending upon the times of the day they are taken at. The circadian rhythm influences the level of synchronisation we have with our ideal daily routines, and now we understand this concept better than ever before.
The Nobel Prize for Literature for the year 2017 was awarded to Japanese-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro, best known for his works The Remains of The Day and Never Let Me Go. In a press release, the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize for Literature every year, praised Kazuo Ishiguro for being an author, “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”. Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, describes Ishiguro’s writing style as “a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka. But, you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix, and then you stir”.
Last year, the Prize went to Bob Dylan, who thus became the first musician to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bob Dylan was awarded for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
The Nobel Peace Prize this year went to ‘International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)’ making it the 26th Organisation to receive the Nobel Prize. According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the Organisation was picked over 318 nominations- including 215 individuals and 103 organizations, “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons”.
A global civil society coalition of 468 peace, human rights and development groups as of 2017, ICAN has led a long and hard campaign to warn nations about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Their tireless efforts finally led to the signing of the ‘Humanitarian Pledge’ — an international effort to “stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons” as well as the ‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’- a legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons. They are led by the belief that in a post Cold War world, nuclear weapon stockpiling is as dangerous as it is unnecessary. Today, when the increasingly rancorous rhetoric between nations such as North Korea and USA is threatening to lean towards the use of nuclear weapons, this Nobel Peace Prize will ensure that the debate about nuclear weapons is kept alive in the world.
Behavioral economics is analogous to the Lay’s that you encounter in the supermarket. You would not want it then, you might even know that, but you still can’t resist to spend a couple of bucks and savor them.
While this may seem perfectly okay, there are some unbelievable outcomes that behavioral economics and ‘nudge’ theory can produce. The Brexit is a classic example, wherein the people’s votes were induced by gut choices and not just rational behavior, as economic theory suggests.
Enter Richard Thaler. A pioneer in ‘nudge’ theory and a giant in behavioral economics gets awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics this year for “incorporating psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision-making.”
Thaler’s contributions examine how human psychology influences decisions in economics and finance, and argues that economic agents are human and not always the rational actors that conventional economic theory defines them as.
The Nobel Committee’s honoring of Thaler is not just merely a recognition of his works, but also proves as a testament to the new discovery of his discipline’s significance.