After an uncharacteristic leak last week, all of this year’s Nobel laureates have officially been announced by the prize committees. Their contributions to science and the humanities range from lifesaving vaccinations to plays and novels that explore the human condition to fighting for human rights in Iran.
Physiology or medicine
The 2023 Nobel prize in medicine was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, two of the scientists whose work helped pave the way for mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 that have saved countless lives.
“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the panel wrote in a press release.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) in vaccines use a snippet of genetic code that brings instructions for making proteins. If the right virus protein is selected for the vaccine, then the body produces its own defenses against the virus. One of the major advantages of mRNA vaccines is that these vaccines can be made in extremely large quantities since their main components are made in laboratories.
Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier will jointly share the prestigious Nobel prize in physics. The trio was awarded for their work probing the world of electrons.
“Their experiments, which have given humanity new tools for exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules,” the Nobel committee wrote on Tuesday. “Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier have demonstrated a way to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy.”
When perceived by humans, fast-moving events flow into each other similar to the way a flip book of still images can be perceived as continual movement. In the world of electrons, these changes occur in an attosecond, or only a millionth of a trillionth of a second. An attosecond is so short that there are as many attoseconds in one second as there have been seconds since the birth of the universe roughly 13.8 billion years ago.
Electrons’ movements in atoms and molecules are measured in these attoseconds. Agostini, Krausz, and L’Huillier have conducted experiments that demonstrate how attosecond pulses could actually be observed and measured, according to the awarding committee.
The chemistry prize was jointly awarded to Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus, and Alexei Ekimov for the discovery and developments of quantum dots. These nanoparticles are so small that their size determines their properties. Quantum dots can now be found in computer monitors and television screens and even help biochemists and surgeons map tissues and remove tumors.
“For a long time, nobody thought you could ever actually make such small particles,” Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said during a news conference. “But this year’s laureates succeeded.”
Quantum dots are among the smallest components of nanotechnology. Typically, an element’s properties are governed by how many electrons it has. When that matter shrinks down to nano-dimensions quantum phenomena arise. This means the element’s properties are now governed by the size of the matter instead of the number of electrons it has.
Ekimov created size-dependent quantum effects in colored glass and demonstrated that the particle size affected the color of the glass via quantum effects. Later, Brus became the first scientist in the world to prove that size-dependent quantum effects in particles were floating freely in a fluid. In 1993, Bawendi revolutionized the chemical production of quantum dots. His techniques resulted in almost perfect particles, which was necessary for using the quantum dots in a wide range of applications.
Norwegian author Jon Fosse was awarded the literature prize, “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable,” according to the prize committee. Fosse has written about 40 plays, in addition to numerous short stories, novels, children’s books, essays, and poetry. His 2021 work A New Name: Septology VI-VII has been described as Fosse’s “magnum opus” and was a finalist for the International Booker Prize in 2022.
In a 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Fosse said, “When I manage to write well, there is a second, silent language. This silent language says what it is all about. It’s not the story, but you can hear something behind it — a silent voice speaking.”
Fosse’s cultural significance in Norway is so huge that there is even a hotel suite named after him in Oslo.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2023 Peace Prize to jailed Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi, “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”
Mohammadi is the deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organization led by 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
In September 2022 a young Kurdish woman named Mahsa Jina Amini was killed under custody of the Iranian morality police. Her death sparked the largest political demonstration against Iran’s theocracy since it came into power in 1979. Thousands of Iranains took to the streets in peaceful protests under the slogan Woman – Life – Freedom. At least 20,000 protestors were jailed, thousands were injured, and 500 demonstrators were killed when the regime cracked down on the protests.
The committee said that the Woman – Life – Freedom motto suitably expresses the dedication and work of Narges Mohammadi. She is serving multiple sentences in Evin Prison in Tehran, amounting to roughly 12 years behind bars.
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Harvard professor Claudia Goldin for providing the first comprehensive account of “women’s earnings and labour market participation through the centuries,” which includes intensive research of on the gender pay gap.
Goldin is the third woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Economics, and the first one to win the award solo.
“Understanding women’s role in the labour is important for society. Thanks to Claudia Goldin’s groundbreaking research we now know much more about the underlying factors and which barriers may need to be addressed in the future,” said Jakob Svensson, Chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences, in a release.
The physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, economics sciences, and literature prizes will be awarded in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10. The peace prize will be awarded on the same day, but in Oslo, Norway. December 10 is the 127th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.