2011 Nobel laureate awards

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The Nobel prize was created in the will of Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901.  Nobel, a Swede who invented dynamite, set up awards for achievements in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace.

Nobel Prize in Medicine:

THE rules say it is not allowed, but this year a Nobel prize was awarded to a man who passed away just three days before the announcement on September 30th.  That news did not, however, make it across the Atlantic Ocean in time, and on October 3rd the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm honoured Dr Ralph Steinman with half of this year’s prize in physiology or medicine.  Dr Steinman of Rockefeller University in New York, discovered the role of dendritic cells in activating the immune system.

The other half was shared by Bruce Beutler from the Scripps Institute in San Diego and Jules Hoffmann from Strasbourg University for work on the way the immune system boots up in the face of invading pathogens.  Dr Hoffmann found in fruit flies, and Dr Beutler subsequently discovered in mice, a crucial protein-binding mechanism that helps the immune system recognise invaders and trigger an immune response against them.

Nobel Prize in Physics:

Adam Riess, Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter led two teams of researchers who found the universe was expanding at an ever-faster rate as a result of a mysterious ‘superforce’.

Three astronomers share the prize, having discovered in 1998 that exploding stars in deep space were moving away far faster than anyone had suspected because something known as “dark energy” was overriding the tendency for gravity to keep the universe together – the accelerating expansion of the universe was one of the most suprising discoveries in astronomy in recent decades.

They observed about 50 supernovae to compare how fast the universe was expanding in the past with how fast it is expanding now.  The scientists expected to find that the expansion of the universe – as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago and first predicted by Albert Einstein’s theories – more than a century ago, would be slowing down.  To their astonishment, they found the opposite to be true.

The rules of the Nobel prize stipulate it cannot be shared by more than three people, which meant many of the scientists involved in the discovery were not being properly recognised, said Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry:

Daniel Shechtman has at last been recognised for his discovery of quasicrystals.

An Israeli scientist who was ridiculed by the scientific establishment and asked to resign his research post because his discovery of a new class of solid material was too unbelievable, has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry – for that very discovery.

Daniel Shechtman, 70, of the Technion Institute in Haifa in the United States, in 1982 observed that the arrangement of atoms in a metal alloy can break the rules of repeat pattern crystallography by forming non-repeating patterns, much like certain irregular mosaics seen in the Arab world.

At the time, the configuration found in these “quasicrystals” was considered impossible because regular patterns were considered essential for a crystal solid to form.

Dr Schechtman suffered the opprobrium of the scientific establishment, voiced by the US chemist and double-Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, who said: “There is no thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”  However, Dr Shechtman proved that the atoms in his crystal were packed in a non-repeating pattern.

His fellow scientists eventually reconsidered how they view the nature of matter, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which awards the chemistry Nobel.

Professor Ronan McGrath, of the University of Liverpool, said: “Lesser scientists might have put his unusual result to one side and dismissed it as a measurement error.”

Nobel Prize for Literature:

Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, wins for his “New Collected Poems”.

The Swedish Academy said Transtromer won the prize, “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.

Peter Englund, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, told reporters in Stockholm, “This is someone who has been in the running for a long time, he’s been nominated every year since 1993 – he’s one of the world’s greatest living poets.  It’s very possible to read through Tomas Transtromer’s production in a single evening – it will be a very special evening.”

His wife, Monica Transtromer, said the poet’s reaction was one of “Complete disbelief.  It was a nice blend of terror, surprise and complete happiness.”

The Nobel peace prize will be announced Friday, 7th Oct, 2011.