Monday, 15 Oct, 2007 Science

The Nobel Prize 2007 Has Been Given Away


Right after the Ig Nobel Prize Awards has taken place, serious people from Stockholm have come into play.

It is a fact that the most renown and prestigious scientific award is the Nobel Prize, which takes place once a year in the Swedish capital. The Nobel Prize is awarded in five nominations: Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Peace and Economics (the latter only since 1969).

This year's first Nobel Prize was awarded for medical achievements to three scientists, who have dedicated their researches to genetics. Their researches have brought them to breaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and ways of recombining the DNA code in mammals. These discoveries led to a new technology, named gene targeting in mice. This technology is applied in many areas of biomedicine, which encompasses basic experiments, researches and development of therapies.

The new technology is used to make particular genes inactive and such experiments have led to understanding of the roles of various genes in embryonic development, aging, adult physiology and diseases. Thanks to this technology over ten thousand mouse genes were made inactive, which means that scientists have researched the significance of about a half of all genes in the mammalian genome by "knocking out" certain genes. The gene targeting technology has already produced over 500 mouse models of human disorders, such as cardiovascular, neuro-degenerative diseases, diabetes, cancer and many others.

Thus Mario R. Capecchi, from the University of Utah, Sir Martin J. Evans, from the Cardiff University in the UK, and Oliver Smithies, from the University of North Carolina, have been awarded the Nobel Prize of 2007 in medicine "for their discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells".

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to two European scientists - a Frenchman and a German - for their discovery of a physical effect, known today as Giant Magnetoresistance or GMR. Albert Fert and Peter Grüaut;nberg have discovered this effect independently, both in 1988. The name Giant Magnetoresistance is something beyond understanding for the majority of people, yet everyday many encounter devices, based on this phenomenon - hard disk drives.

A hard disk stores information in form of magnetized small areas, which are scanned by read-out heads to retrieve the information. Since all devices tend to miniaturize more sensitive read-out heads are necessary to retrieve information from smaller and smaller magnetized information areas on hard disks. However, not much has changed since 1997, when the first read-out head based on the GMR effect was produced, as it was under constant development and even the hard disks of today are based upon this physical phenomenon.

It should be mentioned that the GMT effect was discovered thanks to techniques developed during the 70s, when scientists tended to produce very thin layers of various materials. Thus they are of opinion that if GMR would work, they would be able to produce layers of only a few atoms thick, so the GMR could also be considered one of the first applications of nanotechnology.

This years' Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to a German scientist, Gerhard Ertl, "for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces". This prize is an acknowledgement of the importance of Ertl's studies in surface chemistry, which is, in its turn, important for the chemical industry in general. This new branch of the chemical industry should help us understand such processes as iron rusting, or how fuel cells interact and function, or how the catalysts in cars work. People didn't notice it, but the surface chemistry has spread its activity very wide. For example, thanks to surface chemistry it became possible explaining the destruction of the ozone layer of the planet: scientists have discovered that some reactions take place on small crystals of ice in the stratosphere. As another example of the benefit of the surface chemistry could be brought the semiconductor industry, which depends on the knowledge, acquired by this branch of chemical industry.

Gerhard Ertl's accomplishment in the area is that he founded an experimental school of thought, where he showed the reliability of the results attained in this area of research. This scientist has left a priceless impact on this branch of chemistry: his methodology has become a basis both for academic research and for industrial development.

The 2007 literature Nobel Prize was given to the English writer Doris Lessing, for "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".

There is not much to say about the work of Doris Lessing, except that this prize is to complement a bunch of other literature prizes she has already won (15), among which S.T. Dupond Golden PEN Award in 2002, Premio Principe de Asturias and Companion of Hunour from the Royal Society of Literature, both in 2001 and many other prizes and awards.

Doris Lessing's novels have shown the Royal Swedish Academy the writers vision of global catastrophe, which lead people to a more primitive life; and how chaos gave birth to primitive qualities of a human being, giving hope to humanity. These traces of her writings are very good depicted in her most recent fantasy novel Mara and Dann (1999) and its sequel The Story of Dann and Mara' Daughter, as well as Griot and the Snow Dog (2005).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. have received congratulations on this year's Nobel Prize for peace. They have earned it for making people acquainted with the global warming problem. The two awardees will share the prize in half for being equally committed to the problem of man-made climate changes.

The Nobel Prize for peace given to two fighters against global warming shows the acknowledgement of the problem by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and thus attract more attention to this global event, even though still reject the fact of its mere existence.

Thus the Nobel Prize for peace in 2007 is awarded to Al Gore as one of the most environmentally aware and active politicians, ass wel as to the IPCC "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

The Nobel Prize in economics this year was awarded "for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory" to Leonid Hurwicz, from the University of Minnesota, MN, USA, Eric S. Maskin, from the Institute of Advanced Study, NJ, USA, and Roger Myerson, from the University of Chicago, IL, USA.

Leonid Hurwicz is the founder of the mechanism design theory, which was further developed by the other two awardees. This new theory has helped many to understand the properties of optimal allocation mechanisms in situations, when information about individual preferences and available technologies is used among many players, who use that information to satisfy their own interests and for t heir own profit.

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