Seven scientists from the many thousands worldwide have just been announced to share the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and, Physics. Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) had a very eventful life in addition to discovering dynamite; fascinating details about his adventures are well worthwhile for you to read (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863” and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” )! Nobel conducted scientific research in chemistry, and also was active as an engineer, industrialist, and inventor. His will bequeathed his fortune to set up ongoing global prizes for scientific work providing the greatest benefit to all humans. Details about all the Nobel Prizes in science and in non-science are described at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes .
All scientists would dearly love to win a Nobel Prize, but only a very few ever attain this most prestigious honor in science! The new awards will be bestowed at ceremonies and events during the special Nobel Week festivities at Stockholm, Sweden (December 5-10, 2016). The latest Nobel Laureates should be much appreciated by the general public, and congratulated by other scientists for the excellence in their experimental research! A brief summary of the 2016 Laureates and their honored research achievements follows.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine [1,2]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, Ph.D. (Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan), for his research determining the detailed molecular mechanisms for the functioning of autophagy (autophagocytosis) in cellular health and disease. Autophagy provides the controlled destruction of old or damaged subcellular organelles (e.g., mitochondria) or other objects inside eukaryotic cells; after cytoplasmic membranes rearrange to surround the targets, those bodies merge with lysosomes (small packages of hydrolytic enzymes) so the targets are completely broken down without exposing the rest of the cell to that destruction. Most eukaryotic cells use autophagy as the primary means to keep everything renewed, fresh, and functionally active. Autophagy complements heterophagy (phagocytosis), where cells internalize external targets (e.g., bacteria) and subsequently destroy them by lysosomal hydrolysis.
Ohsumi’s breakthrough research using molecular genetics discovered how autophagy is activated and regulated, how mutations in proteins controlling autophagocytosis can cause disease states in humans, and how the functioning of autophagy has a wide importance for cell biology and cell pathology. His discoveries with basic research have solved longstanding questions in cell biology and have led to new investigations with applied research by numerous other scientists.
Nobel Prize in Physics [3,4]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to 3 scientists for theoretical investigations about unusual states of matter: David J. Thouless, Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, U.S.), F. Duncan M. Haldane, Ph.D. (Princeton Univ ersity, Princeton, NJ, U.S., and J. Michael Kosterlitz, Ph.D. (Brown University, Providence, RI, U.S.). They fundamentally advanced condensed matter physics by studying the topological organization of atoms kept in highly unusual states (i.e., by extreme heating or cooling). Under such conditions, matter can have different states of organization than the usual gases, liquids, and solids. Using mathematical analyses, they were able to explain their findings and make detailed theoretical proposals that were later validated by further experimental studies.
This new understanding about matter is anticipated to provide a good basis for future research and engineering development of new superconductors and quantum computers. The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics nicely exemplifies the importance of theoretical research studies for stimulating advances in experimental investigations (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in Science” ).
Nobel Prize in Chemistry [5,6]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to 3 pioneering chemists who designed and produced controllable machines made from molecules: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Ph.D. (University of Strasbourg, France), J. Fraser Stoddart, Ph.D. (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL., U.S.), and Bernard L. Feringa, Ph.D. (University of Groningen, The Netherlands). Using experimental formations by different types of newly synthesized chemical molecules, they showed that their designed molecular interactions could repeatedly produce lifting, moving, or rotation in response to provision of energy; these new constructs can form molecular machines, motors, and even a “nanocar”.
Miniaturization to the level of molecules gives chemistry an innovative new dimension. Many researchers and engineers now are working to develop new applications of the technology established during decades of investigations by the 2016 Nobel Laureates in chemistry. Anticipated developments include new materials, sensors, systems for energy storage, and even computers.
Brief discussion and comments about the 2016 Nobel Prize winners!
The Nobel Prizes in science continue to bring forth excellent researchers and outstanding experimental studies to the attention of the public worldwide. Several of the latest Nobel Prizes follow from earlier Nobel Prizes awarded for outstanding research in related subject areas. Most discoveries by Nobel Laureates began with studies in basic research, which opened the door for later applied research, engineering developments, and industrial productions. The individual Nobel Laureates in 2016 have some features that commonly characterize winners of all the big honors in science (see: “What Does It Take to Win the Big Prizes in Science?“ ).
The 2016 award to Prof. Ohsumi is notable because most Nobel Prizes in Medicine or Physiology have been awarded to multiple scientists, rather than to only one person. He deserves lots of credit for his dedication to long investigations and innovative research leadership!
A frequent criticism of the Nobel Prizes in science is that they do not usually give credit to the research workers associated with the Laureates. The Breakthrough Prizes, which compete with the Nobel Prizes for being very important honors in scientific research, awarded their 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to 3 scientists, plus to 1012 other individual workers who travailed on a very large and long research effort in big science !
Check out further information about the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science!
All readers, whether scientists or non-scientists, are encouraged to explore more information about the winning researchers! Many good written and video presentations soon will be found on the internet!
 Nobel Prize, 2016. Press release, summary for 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2016/press.html ).
 Nobel Assembly, 2016. Scientific background: Discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy (see: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2016/advanced-medicineprize2016.pdf
 Nobel Prize, 2016. Press release, The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2016/press.html ).
 Nobel Assembly 2016. Popular science background: Strange phenomena in matter’s flatlands (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2016/popular-physicsprize2016.pdf ).
 Nobel Prize, 2016. Press release, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2016/press.html ).
 Nobel Assembly, 2016. Popular science background: How molecules became machines (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nPobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2016/popular-chemistryprize2016.pdf ).
 Breakthrough Prize, 2016. Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics awarded for detection of gravitational waves 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence (see: https://breakthroughprize.org/News/32 ).
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