Posted: Wed Oct 03, 2018 10:13 am Post subject: Nobel Prizes
This year’s Nobel prize in chemistry went to Frances Arnold, George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter. Dr Arnold created synthetic enzymes by “directed evolution”. Dr Smith invented phage display, a technique that can be used to drive the evolution of new proteins. And Dr Winter used phage display to direct the evolution of antibodies, eventually creating one that is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease
The 2018 Nobel peace prize is awarded to a surgeon and a former slave
Two campaigners fighting against rape as a weapon of war have shone a light on a horrible tactic
Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions that some readers may find distressing
WHEN Dr Denis Mukwege first saw the injuries of a woman who had been raped by a soldier, he was appalled. It was not just the hideousness of the crime. It was the pitiless planning behind it. During the war in eastern Congo, militia commanders orchestrated campaigns of mass rape to terrorise the whole population into submission. “I couldn't imagine that could be done as a strategy,” Dr Mukwege told The Economist. Since qualifying as a gynaecologist—one of the very few in the Democratic Republic of Congo—he has operated on some 20,000 survivors of sexual violence and devoted his life to publicising their plight.
Nadia Murad’s story is, if anything, more harrowing. She was a quiet, studious 21-year-old when Islamic State arrived in her village in Iraq in 2014. The jihadists separated the men from the women and murdered the men, including six of Ms Murad’s brothers and stepbrothers. They murdered the older women, too, including Ms Murad’s mother. Then they took the young women and sold them as sex slaves. Explicitly, at a slave market. Ms Murad was one of thousands to be violated by men who argued that they were doing their victims a favour, because they were infidels and would have a chance to become Muslims.
Since she escaped, she too has been a tireless campaigner against rape as a weapon of war, sharing her story no matter how much it hurts to tell it, and urging the world to hold Islamic State accountable for the genocide of her people, the Yazidis, a minority faith in Iraq and Syria.
The Nobel prize for economics is awarded for work on the climate and economic growth
WHY do economies grow, and why might growth outstrip the natural world’s capacity to sustain it? The answers to such questions have long eluded economists. But the profession’s progress towards cracking them is in large part because of this year’s recipients of the Nobel prize for economic sciences, Paul Romer (pictured, right) and William Nordhaus (pictured, left).
Women in Rare Company Accept Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry
For the first time, female scientists had won the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics. And on Monday, they accepted their accolades at the same award ceremony in Stockholm.
For Donna Strickland, receiving the call two months ago that she had won the physics prize is the only feeling that can compare, she said, to the moment when she had her scientific breakthrough.
Her colleague had “wheeled his three cameras into my lab one night,” Dr. Strickland said in her acceptance speech, “and together we measured the compressed pulse width of the amplified pulses.”
“I will never forget that night,” she said. “It is truly an amazing feeling when you know that you have built something that no one else ever has and it actually works.”
For Dr. Arnold’s part, she pioneered the bioengineering method, which works similar to the way dog breeders mate specific dogs to bring out desired traits, in the early 1990s and has refined it since.
“With evolution in our hands, with the ability to set genetic diversity and tailor the forces of selection, we can now explore paths that nature has left unexplored,” Dr. Arnold said during her acceptance speech.
“We can select life and their chemistries to our benefit to create new sources of energy, to fix the carbon in our atmosphere, to cure disease, to make us younger, more beautiful, or we can make new weapons of terror or state control,” she added.
Karen Uhlenbeck Is First Woman to Win Abel Prize for Mathematics
Dr. Uhlenbeck helped pioneer geometric analysis, developing techniques now commonly used by many mathematicians.
For the first time, one of the top prizes in mathematics has been given to a woman.
On Tuesday, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced it has awarded this year’s Abel Prize — an award modeled on the Nobel Prizes — to Karen Uhlenbeck, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The award cites “the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.”
One of Dr. Uhlenbeck’s advances in essence described the complex shapes of soap films not in a bubble bath but in abstract, high-dimensional curved spaces. In later work, she helped put a rigorous mathematical underpinning to techniques widely used by physicists in quantum field theory to describe fundamental interactions between particles and forces.
In the process, she helped pioneer a field known as geometric analysis, and she developed techniques now commonly used by many mathematicians.
“She did things nobody thought about doing,” said Sun-Yung Alice Chang, a mathematician at Princeton University who served on the five-member prize committee, “and after she did, she laid the foundations of a branch of mathematics.”
Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded for Studies of Earth’s Place in the Universe
The cosmologist James Peebles split the prize with the astrophysicists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, for work the Nobel judges said “transformed our ideas about the cosmos.”
This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists who transformed our view of the cosmos.
James Peebles, a professor emeritus at Princeton University, shared half of the prize for theories that explained how the universe swirled into galaxies and everything we see in the night sky, and indeed much that we cannot see.
The other half was shared by two Swiss astronomers, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, who were the first to discover an exoplanet, or a planet circling around a sun-like star.
“They really, sort of tell us something very essential — existential — about our place in the universe,” Ulf Danielsson, a member of the Nobel committee, said during an interview broadcast on the web.
Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for Research on How Cells Manage Oxygen
The prize was awarded to William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for discoveries about how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to three scientists — William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza — for their work on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.
The Nobel Assembly announced the prize at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Monday.
Their work established the genetic mechanisms that allow cells to respond to changes in oxygen levels. The findings have implications for treating a variety of diseases, including cancer, anemia, heart attacks and strokes.
Nobel prize for chemistry: the lithium-ion battery
An overdue award for a ubiquitous invention
ALTHOUGH ALFRED NOBEL’S will states that the annual prizes bearing his name should be given to those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”, the science awards have a tendency to end up in the hands of those who have made esoteric, if profound, advances. Not so with this year’s prize in chemistry. Three researchers—two from America and one from Japan—have been rewarded for their work in developing the lithium-ion battery.
Lithium-ion batteries have transformed society because they are lightweight and rechargeable. They have therefore become ubiquitous in everything from mobile phones, tablets and laptops to electric cars. They could also, in the future, become important in storing the intermittently available energy produced by renewable sources such as wind and solar power, as the world attempts to move away from fossil fuels.
Nobel prizes for literature: Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke
The Swedish Academy’s decision to crown two European authors will delight and enrage readers around the world
IT WAS A SPECIAL edition of the Nobel prize in literature. Following the suspension of the award last year in the wake of a sexual-abuse scandal, on October 10th the Swedish Academy announced the winners of both the 2018 and 2019 medals. From shortlists of eight writers, they chose to crown Olga Tokarczuk, a Polish novelist, and Peter Handke, an Austrian playwright, scriptwriter and memoirist. Each writer will receive 9m Swedish krona ($907,000), a medal and a diploma.
Earlier this month, Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel prize in literature committee, had said that formerly the jurors “had a more Eurocentric perspective on literature,” but that now they “are looking all over the world”. So the triumph of two authors from Europe, which accounts for just 11% of the world’s population but three-quarters of the laureates since the Nobel prize was founded in 1901, will surprise those who had hoped the Academy might use its year of reflection to broaden its scope and acknowledge a writer from further afield. Early favourites were Maryse Conde, the empress of Caribbean literature; the celebrated Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o; and Haruki Murakami from Japan.
Assessing Abiy Ahmed, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
The record of Ethiopia’s prime minister remains incomplete, at home and abroad
THERE ARE two types of Nobel Peace Prize winner. The uncontroversial ones are often campaigners, such as Nadia Murad (who won last year for her work highlighting rape during war) or the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (which won in 2013). The controversial ones are often the politicians who actually negotiate peace deals—think of Yasser Arafat or F.W. de Klerk. Politics in violent places is a nasty, messy affair, and peace deals don’t always last. The award of the prize on October 11th to Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, will spark more debate than most.
On the plus side, Abiy has tried hard to be a unifier since he took office last year. He often uses the Amharic word medemer (to add together) in speeches. Millions of Ethiopians have welcomed his promises of democracy, reconciliation and reform in a country that had long been oppressed.
In June 2018 he signed a historic peace deal with Eritrea, a smaller neighbour that seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. The accord brought to a close two decades of pointless conflict over a scrap of barren land. The war had led to tens of thousands of deaths, ripped apart families and severed the deep ties of blood, culture and language between the two countries.
Abiy broke the deadlock by promising to withdraw from the disputed territories, thus implementing the findings of a UN commission that Ethiopia had long rejected. He also took advantage of his close relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose financial largesse may have helped nudge Issaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s president, to the negotiating table. After the peace agreement, families and friends were reunited and cross-border trade flourished.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee’s chair, said the prize recognised Abiy’s “efforts to achieve peace and international co-operation, and in particular his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”. He has also been praised for helping to mediate a power-sharing accord between pro-democracy protesters and a military junta that took power earlier this year in Sudan.
A Nobel economics prize goes to pioneers in understanding poverty
Using randomised trials help policymakers grasp which policies work and which don’t
THE MOST important question in economics is also the hardest: why do some countries stay poor while others grow rich? In 2015, 10% of the world’s population lived on less than $1.90 per day, down from 36% in 1990. But more than 700m people remain in extreme poverty, and the number grows every day in certain parts of the world, in particular sub-Saharan Africa. For their contributions to understanding gaps in development, the better to close them, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer have been awarded this year’s Nobel prize for economics. All three are Americans, though Mr Banerjee and Ms Duflo are immigrants (and married to each other). Ms Duflo is only the second woman to have received the prize and, at 46, the youngest winner ever.
Thirty years ago, economists mostly looked at the big picture. They studied large-scale structural transformations: from rural and agricultural to urban and industrial. Macroeconomists built growth theories around variables such as human capital, then ran cross-country growth regressions to try to measure relationships—for example, between years of schooling and GDP per person. But data were scarce or poor, and the vast number of potentially relevant factors made it hard to be sure what caused what.
In the mid-1990s Michael Kremer of Harvard University tried something different. With collaborators and co-authors, he began studying poverty with methods more commonly associated with chemists and biologists: randomised trials. If human capital—health, education, skills and so forth—is essential for development, then economists had better make sure they understand where it comes from. In Kenya he conducted field experiments in which schools were randomly divided into groups—some subject to a policy intervention and others not. He tested, among other things, additional textbooks, deworming treatments and financial incentives for teachers linked to their pupils’ progress.
We live in an age that is losing the capacity to distinguish art from ideology and artists from politics.
But part of the answer, too, is that we live in an age that is losing the capacity to distinguish art from ideology and artists from politics. “I’m standing at my garden gate and there are 50 journalists,” Handke complained on Tuesday, “and all of them just ask me questions like you do, and from not a single person who comes to me I hear they have read any of my works or know what I have written.” He has a point. He didn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize or some other humanitarian award. His art deserves to be judged, or condemned, on its artistic merits alone.
What’s the alternative? Those who think that a core task of art is political instruction or moral uplift will wind up with some version of socialist realism or religious dogma. And those who think that the worth of art must be judged according to the moral and political commitments of its creator ultimately consign all art to the dustbin, since even the most avant-garde artists are creatures of their time.
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