2015 Nobel Prize in Physics announced for neutrino mass! #science

Congrats to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald for winning the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics!

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 recognises Takaaki Kajita in Japan andArthur B. McDonald in Canada, for their key contributions to the experiments which demonstrated that neutrinos change identities. This metamorphosis requires that neutrinos have mass. The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe.

2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine announced for parasite medications! #FirstChineseWoman!!

Congrats to Campbell, Omura, and Youyou Tu on winning the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine!! News story from NYT here!

William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura won for developing a new drug, Avermectin. A derivative of that drug, Ivermectin, has nearly eradicated river blindness and radically reduced the incidence of filariasis, which causes the disfiguring swelling of the lymph system in the legs and lower body known as elephantiasis. They shared the $900,000 award with Youyou Tu, who discovered Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced death rates from malaria.

[tweet https://twitter.com/NobelPrize/status/650966364530810880] [tweet https://twitter.com/NobelPrize/status/650983821593157632] [tweet https://twitter.com/NobelPrize/status/650968930874331136]

James Watson’s Nobel Prize for DNA structure auctioned at Christie’s for $4,100,000!! #science #WompWomp

Posted without comment. Background here. Insight into why Watson chose to sell his Medal here via Vox.

[tweet https://twitter.com/DNALC/status/540581810036809728]

Wanna buy a Nobel Prize Medal? James Watson is selling his to supplement his income… and more? #science

James Watson, who received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for helping discover the structure of DNA, is auctioning off his Medal this week.

Christie’s has said Watson’s medal could sell for as much as $2.2 million dollars, when it is auctioned in New York on Thursday.

According to the Irish Times, Watson said he plans to use the money from the sale of the gold medal to supplement his income, make donations to “institutions that have looked after me” such as the University of Chicago, his alma mater, and Clare College, Cambridge, and to buy art.

Check out the article here for more info, including some info on the many controversial comments made by Watson.

Benjamin Burke: Nobel Prizes need to catch up with the 21st century @ConversationUK

Science Nobel Prizes must change to remain relevant in the 21st century

By Benjamin Burke, University of Hull

The Nobel Prizes in the sciences have been announced to much celebration around the world. And this year, unlike most years, controversies were largely avoided. And yet, the relevance of the Nobel Prize in the modern world can be questioned.

Since 1901, the Nobel Prizes have been awarded in the categories of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature and Peace, with the subsequent addition of Economics. The winners have included notable people such as Marie Curie, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemmingway and Linus Pauling. Although such esteemed figures and contributions to society have unprecedented worth, are the Nobel Prizes in their current form the best way to celebrate academic and literary achievements?

Most often the criticism of Nobel Prizes is that either the achievement doesn’t warrant the commendation or the individual awarded should have been someone else. Although I sometimes agree with this notion, especially in undervaluing a particular individual’s role in an achievement, this reproach is subjective. These are topics we should argue about in the pub, rather than suggesting a format change.

Gender balance

The lack of representation of prize-winning females – less than 5% of all prizes have been awarded to them – has demanded a lot of attention across the years, most notably in situations in which it is widely believed that the contribution of male laureates in a particular award is at least equalled or surpassed by a female colleague who was overlooked.

The most famous example being the omission of Rosalind Franklin from the award for DNA structure determination. This issue is certainly not specific to the Nobel’s and is a much wider societal issue. That is why the solution to the problem will come not from the Nobel Foundation alone, but the research community as a whole.

Laureate limit

The prize is currently limited to a maximum of three Nobel laureates per award. A situation which is rarely questioned when speaking of the peace or economics prize. The question is, as modern science has developed more towards collaborative research, how can only three be selected as worthy and others not?

The situation of science is completely different from when the prize was setup according to Alfred Nobel’s will. Since then, individual scientists or small teams making big breakthroughs have nearly entirely disappeared. This has happened because the organisation of science has changed, with overlapping teams of collaborating principle investigators. Why is that only supervisors deserve the award and not the PhD student or post-doc? This obviously comes down to intellectual contribution. Who decides between these when few people are aware of others’ inputs?

The three-person laureate limit leads to a system whereby people miss out. but what is the alternative? If we remove the limit entirely, the problem is only moved down the line rather than solved. Should all of the thousands of researchers at the Europe’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider which is part of CERN, have won the Physics prize for the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2013? We are no closer to a solution. It seems to me that the “rule of three” is the strongest contested and most antiquated in relation to the modern systems of research and although having the rule so rigid causes controversy, it avoids absurdity.

Category expansion

The five original prizes (chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and peace) are certainly in the remit of Alfred Nobel’s will to bestow “prizes to those who … have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. Does this mean that there is nothing outside of these areas which fulfils this criteria?

The economics prize – officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel – was only introduced in 1968 because the central bank of Sweden believed economists having a great benefit for mankind. Is it now time to expand again?

There are a range of candidate disciplines which are currently unrepresented including, but not limited to, mathematics, biology, environmental science and computer science. Could any of these areas be labelled as not conferring great benefit on mankind?

After introducing the Economics prize, the Nobel Foundation seems less than keen on the introduction of new prizes. They seem stubbornly regimented on their attempts to stick to both Nobel’s will along with non-will based tradition. It seems to me that this is to their detriment. The Nobel Prizes have a long tradition in celebration of developmental achievements with unprecedented prestige but if they refuse to move with the times, they are at risk of looking out of step with the modern world and their reputation may wane.

Others have launched prizes to upstage the Nobel Prize. The Fundamental Physics Prize by Yuri Milner, an internet entrepreneur, and the Breakthrough Prize, again by Milner but with a few other internet entrepreneurs, are attempts to ensure that a wider range of sciences benefit from recognition. Old prizes such as the Turing Prize or the Fields Medal are already considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for computer science and mathematics respectively.

Will the Nobel Prizes ever be superseded or sink into obscurity? I suspect not in our lifetimes, and nor do I want them to. Public celebration of achievements for societal good is something which should be increased rather than ridiculed or downplayed. But the Nobel Foundation could ensure that their relevance remains large by making some important changes.

The Conversation

Benjamin Burke does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Mark Lorch explains how super-microscopes won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry @ConversationUK

Nobel Prize in chemistry: beating nature’s limits to build super-microscopes

By Mark Lorch, University of Hull

Robert Hooke was a pioneer of microscopy, when back in the 17th century he drew stunning images of insects, plant cells and fossils. Since then microscopes that use light to magnify things we can’t see with the naked eye have, of course, improved. But, surprisingly, 300 years of engineering lenses hasn’t improved things all that much.

There happens to be a fundamental limit on the magnification that can be obtained from light microscopes. This limit was defined by Ernest Abbe in 1873. The Abbe limit says that we won’t see things smaller than half the wavelength of light.

The wavelength of green light is about 550nm – where nm stands for a billionth of a metre – so practically speaking, anything smaller that about 250nm is below Abbe’s limit. Hooke and other microscopists are fine with fleas (1mm is about 5,000 times the limit), hairs (100 micrometre, about 500 times the limit) and animal cells (50 micrometres). But no matter how good you make a lens you would never be able to use light to get sharp images of bacteria (500nm) or see images of viruses (100nm), proteins (10nm) or small molecules (1nm).

That is when microscopists turned to electrons. The resolution achieved by using electron microscopes was about 100pm – where pm stands for a trillionth of a metre. The result is that electron microscopes can see objects 2,000 times smaller than Abbe’s limit.

But there is a trade off. Electron microscopy requires the sample to be under a high vacuum. The result is that the material you want to visualise can’t be alive. Observing any real-time biological process, then, is out of question.

Glowing molecules

The 2014 chemistry Nobel laureates, Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner, saw Abbe’s predictions as less of a limit and more of a challenge. Their pioneering work used fluorescence to circumvent the limit and turn microscopes into nanoscopes.

Fluorescence is the process where a chemical absorbs light of one colour and then emits it as another colour. It crops up in washing powder, for example, where a compound absorbs ultraviolet light (that you can’t see) and emits a dim blue light (that you can see). In the process tricking you into thinking your wash is cleaner than it really is.

Scientists use fluorescence to tag molecules of interest. So they might add a fluorescent marker that can stick to DNA. Then, under a microscope, they observe shining molecules which tells them approximately where the DNA is. But this doesn’t get around Abbe’s limit. They only see a blob of brightly coloured material in the cell, which is to say that resolution of the image remains limited by the wavelength of light used to visualise it.

Standing on others’ shoulders

This year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry perfectly shows how scientists build on each others’ work to do greater things than the sum of each person’s individual contributions. It also celebrates the importance of interdisciplinary work, because the three laureates include a physicist, a chemist and a biologist.

Hell’s innovation was to come up with a way of suppressing the light from most of the blob. This leaves a tiny, glowing, nanometre-sized area of interest. He used one laser to excite and fluoresce the molecules, and a second to turn them off again, except in the area of interest.

The result is that light is only emitted from a volume far smaller than Abbe’s limit and the resolution of the image is improved many times. The process is then repeated while scanning over a sample, giving a clear picture of a virus or bacteria. This technique is now known as stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy.

Moerner and Betzig took another approach, by building on the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of Green Fluorescent protein (GFP) in jellyfish. When GFP is illuminated with blue light it glows green, just as fluorescence predicts. This turns out to be very useful. Much like tagging DNA, GFP could be fused with another protein and seen under a microscope. However, if you keep shining the blue light on GFP it fades, limiting the time you can visualise the sample.

Moerner discovered that GFP has a perfect recovery switch. Once the glow has faded away it can be reactivated by illuminating with near-UV light (at 405nm), allowing it to fluoresce anew. Moerner went on to disperse GFP in a gel and then switch individual molecules on and off, becoming the first person to detect a single molecule with light microscopy. And this discovery was just what Betzig was waiting for.

Betzig targeted GFP to particular areas of a cell. He then illuminated the GFPs with very weak blue light. Consequently, just a few molecules were excited enough to glow, but they could each be clearly seen, he took their picture and allowed their light to fade away. Then he repeated the process, but this time a different subset of molecules glowed, were photographed and faded. He repeated this many, many times and then superimposed the images. The resulting image had a resolution far below Abbe’s limit.


Calling Betzig, Hell and Moerner’s innovations high-resolution microscopy is a misnomer. Their work has allowed scientists to study processes far below the microscale (thousandth of a metre) to the nanoscale (billionth of a metre). They have produced “nanoscopes” that allow us to investigate the processes going on in living organisms in real-time.

Hell has used his technique to investigate how nerve cells transmit messages around the body, Moerner has studied the proteins involved in Huntington’s disease and Beitzig has probed cells dividing in an embryo. But, more importantly, these scientists have given us tools that many can use to probe other biological processes, which couldn’t be studied otherwise.

The 17th-century scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is called the father of microbiology, because it is said that for the many decades that he worked he saw things under his microscopes that no human being had ever seen before. The winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry have done something similar. Their microscopes are revealing images of things that always existed but which we were never able to see before in such detail.

The Conversation

Mark Lorch does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Announced!!


The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner. The three scientists pioneered methods for super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, which allowed for fluorescence microscopy at the nanometer level (or nano-scopy).

In what has become known as nanoscopy, scientists visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells. They can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.

The award recognized Stefan Hell for discovery of the method of stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy. Eric Betzig and William Moerner were awarded for laying the foundation for development of single-molecule microscopy.

Below is an interview with Sven Lidin, Charman of the Nobel Committee about this year’s Chemistry Prize.