Published:  01:16 AM, 13 October 2017

Nobel Prizes in science 2017 and its implications

Nobel Prizes in science 2017 and its implications

The month of October is the Nobel season and this year is not the difference. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson, who will share 9 million Swedish krona equally. Dubochet was born in 1942 in Switzerland and currently an honorary Professor of Biophysics in University of Lusanne, Switzerland. Frank was in born in 1940 in Germany and currently Professor in Columbia University. Henderson was born in 1945 in Scotland and currently a Programme Leader at MRC laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.

In a press release on 4 October 2017 RSAS states that "for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution" they decided to award Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Dubochet, Frank and Henderson. Long time scientists believe that electron microscope can image only dead matter because electron beam destroys living biological materials. But scientists by cooling molecules overcome this problem and in 1990 three dimensional image of a protein molecule at atomic resolution was developed.

John Berger in his book Ways of Seeing wrote, "Seeing comes before words. The Child looks and recognises before it can speak." Similarly scientific breakthroughs often build upon the visualisation of objects, which is invisible to naked eyes. Cryo-electron microscope technology has solved this problem. The discovery of the three scientists and their co workers have revolutionises biochemistry. Researchers can now produce three dimensional structures of biomolecules such as an image of proteins that cause antibiotic resistance and the surface of an unknown virus.

RSAS has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Throne, who will share 9 million Swedish krona half of which will go to Weiss and other half will be divided equally to Barish and Thorne.  Weiss was born in 1932 in Germany and currently a Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Barish was born in 1936 in USA and currently Linde Professor of Physics at Caltech, USA. Thorne was born in 1940 in USA and currently Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech.

In a press release on 3 October 2017 RSAS states that, "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves" they decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics to Weiss, Barish and Thorne. In my article published in the Daily Observer (dated 2 March 2016) I mentioned that "just like light gravity also propagates as wave." The waves were observed for the first time on 14 September 2015 using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). Einstein in his general theory of relativity mentioned that when a mass accelerates gravitational waves generate and it spread at the speed of light.

Thorne, Weiss and Barish were convinced that this could be detected. Thousand scientists around the world were working for it.  Weiss mentioned that "I view this more as recognition of around 1000 people who contributed and as a result of dedicated efforts over 40 years." Very recently, as reported by the New Scientist (7 October 2017) that another gravitational wave has been spotted by Virgo detector in Italy and two LIGO  detectors  in United States, which was caused by two black holes hitting each other and merging. Scientists believe that capturing gravitational wave and interpreting their message wealth of information about the unseen world can be revealed.

British Physicist James Jeans once put it, "The universe appears to have been designed by a pure mathematician." We can safely say that one of the designers is Albert Einstein because his mathematical prediction has been proved by LIGO and recognised by this year's Physics Nobel Prize. A sad note is that Ronald Drever who worked with Kip Thorne and Weiss and pioneered the development of LIGO for many years passed away at his home in Scotland in March 2017.

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute decided to award the 2017 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to  Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, who will share 9 million Swedish krona equally. Jeffrey C.Hall was born in 1945 in New York, USA and currently associated with University of Maine. Michael Rosbash was born in 1944 in Kansas City, USA and currently associated with Brandeis University. Michael W. Young was born in 1949 in Miami, USA and currently associated with Rockefeller University in USA.

In a press release on 2 October 2017 the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute states that, "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhytham" they decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Hall, Rosbash and Young. Plants, animals and humans have a biological clock that helps prepare our physiology for any fluctuations such as change of day and night. This regular adaptation is referred as circadian rhytham.

Using fruit flies as a model organism, Hall, Rosbash and Young have isolated a gene that controls our daily biological rhythm. The gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and is then degraded during the day.  So, if there is a chronic mismatch in circadian rhythm, then that might link to some conditions such as cancer and depression. We can feel a temporary mismatch when we travel different time zones and experience jet lag.

Former president of India and a Scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once said, "when you look at the light bulb above you, you remember Thomas Alva Edison. When the telephone bell rings, you remember Alexander Graham Bell. When you see the blue sky, you think of C.V. Raman".

In that way when you see the image of a protein you will remember Dubochet, Frank and Henderson. When you see any disturbances in space-time you will remember Weiss, Barish and Thorne. When you see that your sleep pattern or feeding behaviour or body temperature is regulated by a biological clock, you will remember Hall, Rosbash and Young.

Dr Kanan Purkayastha is an Environmental Advisor and writer based in UK.                  -------Dr Kanan Purkayastha

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