In addition you might be interested in the Ig Nobel Prizes, the more light-hearted parody of the Nobel Prizes, which were announced
last month. The full list of winners of the Ig Nobel prizes is available here.
The first Nobel Prize was shared between Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for their work on induced pluripotent stem cells. As you know all living things are made up of cells (unless you count viruses as living) and you grew from a single cell, formed by the fusion of your father’s sperm and mother’s egg. That first cell was pluripotent, meaning it was able to become any type of cell in your body, and it eventually did. As you develop your cells lose the ability to switch types and gradually become specialised so now your skin cells cannot become neurons or vice versa. The work on induced pluripotent stem cells showed that it was possible to take a skin cell and, with the addition of certain chemicals, take it back the stage where it could become any cell. There are all sorts of uses for this from cloning to growing organs for patients from their own body, eliminating the risk of it being rejected after a transplant.
The Physics prize was awarded to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for their work in quantum physics, particularly quantum entanglement. Quantum physics is incredibly counter-intuitive, quite far removed from what I’m familiar with, but amazingly accurate so we know it has to be right. Quantum entanglement, for example, says that it is possible for two particles to become linked and then, regardless of the distance between them, share a quantum state. Their work has so far led to highly-accurate quantum clocks but it is also hoped that it can be used to create super-fast computers.
This was another biological prize and was awarded to Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka. This prize was awarded for work on G-protein coupled receptors which allow cells to respond to many external stimuli. There’s a short summary on how they work, as well as a short explanatory video, on WEIT and I’m going to refer you there for further information.
Chinese author Mo Yan received the Nobel Prize in literature. I’d never heard of him before the award but the BBC had short profile of him and his achievements.
Strange as it seems to me to award a prize to an organisation, the famous Nobel Peace Prize went to the European Union for contributing to “the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” The prize came with a fair amount of controversy and some saying that Malala Yousafzai should have received the prize. Malala is a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was recently shot in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for activism relating to women’s education. She is currently being treated in the UK. There is now a petition on Change.org to have her nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and there are currently 22 000 signatories.
While on the topic of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Peacemakers Museum was recently opened in Johannesburg and intends to celebrate Nobel Peace laureates with special focus on the four South African laureates, Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
This was not in the original Nobel prizes, and technically isn’t, but was added in 1968 after Sveriges Riksbank donated a large sum of money to the Nobel Foundation. The prize was awarded to Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley for developing an algorithm for matching things up.