This year’s Nobel winners have led distinguished careers, culminating in receiving one of the most prestigious awards of all time. The science can be truly groundbreaking, but it’s not always easy to understand. We asked a few of the former researchers on our staff to share why they thought the winners of this year’s science prizes stood out.
Also see our heatmap infographic showing all countries represented by Nobel winners.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: awarded to Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi
This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi for his pioneering work on the mechanisms underlying the cellular process of autophagy. Autophagy, meaning self-eating, is a process by which our cells package various components and move them to the lysosome for degradation. Autophagy contributes to normal cellular quality control, embryonic development, and cellular differentiation, but the process is disrupted in patients with several diseases, including Parkinson’s. Dr. Ohsumi’s work has led to a better understanding of the pathophysiology underlying these diseases and has opened the door for novel therapeutic treatments.
– Ben Mudrak, PhD in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University
Nobel Prize in Physics: awarded to Dr. David J. Thouless and Drs. F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Michael Kosterlitz for their work on topological phases of matter and their phase transitions. Their work has improved our understanding of phase transitions within two-dimensional systems of electron spins, providing insight into phenomena such as the integer units of conductance observed in the quantum Hall effect. The practical implications of these developments include a better understanding of the properties that can lead to superconductivity.
– Dan Brosnan, MS in Physics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Nobel Prize in Chemistry: awarded to Drs. Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa for their work on molecular machines. Miniaturizing machines down to the atomic scale has been dreamt of for decades, and these researchers have achieved this goal through the realization of the mechanical bond. The synthesis of actual nanoscale machines with motors and moving parts opens up a wide range of possible technologies, including medical and computer applications. While this field is still in its infancy, you will surely see many new technologies as a direct result of this work.
– Matthew Frederick, PhD in Physical Chemistry, Northwestern University
Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences: awarded to Drs. Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström
This year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was jointly awarded to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their many contributions to contract theory. Contracts regulate many important transactions in modern societies, ranging from employment to health insurance and property rights. Thus, contracts take diverse forms in the real world. Holmström provided an explanation for this diversity: almost any piece of information about actions or the state of nature can be used to improve a contract. However, it is often impossible for a contract to provide detailed terms. Hart and his collaborators worked on this idea of incomplete contracts: although contracts cannot specify every action, they can specify which actor has the right to make decisions. Insights from contract theory have been applied to the design of CEO compensation schemes, to understanding the relationships between elected officials and voters, and to the design of better institutions.
– Ana Guzman Corrales, MA in Political Science and International Studies, Duke University
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