The Nobel Prizes for Science, 2017

Simon Langer 26 October 2017

Physics – Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish, Kip S. Thorne – LIGO detector and the
observation of gravitational waves

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 was divided, with one half being awarded to Rainer Weiss and the other half jointly awarded to Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne. Thanks to the dedication of these scientists, humanity was able to observe the universe’s gravitational waves for the first time, 99 years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence in his theory of general relativity. This time period seems like a mere blink when taking into account that it took 1.3 billion years for the waves to arrive at the LIGO detector (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). The waves emerged from a collision between two black holes and, according to Einstein, could never be captured. However, using colossal laser interferometers to measure changes thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus, the LIGO detector and the associated researchers were able to detect the gravitational wave  as it passed Earth.

Economic Sciences – Richard H. Thaler – Behavioural Economics

Richard H. Thaler from the University of Chicago has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences for his work on behavioural economics, combining psychological ideas with analyses of economic decision-making. As a scientist, he has investigated the consequences of psychological phenomena such as lack of self-control, limited rationality and social preferences. Thaler also implemented several projects researching fairness, coming to the conclusion that consumer’s fairness concerns stop companies from raising prices in high demand periods, but not in times with high production costs.

Physiology or Medicine – Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, Michael W. Young –
Molecular mechanisms of the circadian rhythm

The researchers Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms underlying the internal, biological clock known as the circadian rhythm. During their time at Brandeis University (Hall, Rosbach) and Rockefeller University (Young) respectively, the Nobel laureates were able to identify a gene responsible for this daily biological rhythm in a study with fruit flies. This gene encodes for a protein that accumulates in the cell during night time and is then degraded during the day. Such an internal clock is also present in humans and imbalance between our lifestyle and our biological clock is implicated with an increased risk for various diseases.

Chemistry – Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, Richard Henderson – Cryo-electron

For their revolutionary development of cryo-electron microscopy, the researchers Jacques Dubochet (University of Lausanne), Joachim Frank (Columbia University) and Cambridge’s own Richard Henderson (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) have been distinguished with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Through their work, the imaging of biomolecules has been improved and it may be possible in the near future to provide detailed pictures in atomic resolution for the life sciences. Scientists who utilise cryo-electron microscopy can freeze biomolecules during their movement and therefore take into account processes that have never previously been seen. This technique will be able to upgrade chemical research and creation of pharmaceuticals.