the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Serin Lee ’22
The Nobel Prizes are six separate prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economics. Often recognized as the greatest recognition one could get in those areas, the prize is awarded to those who have “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”
On Oct 11, 2021, all awardees for the Nobel Prize 2021 were revealed. Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann took the first half of the Physics prize for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate. Giorgio Parisi was awarded the other half for his discovery of the interactions of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales. The two teams’ contribution to understanding complex systems is hoped to aid us in combating global warming and more. Parisi’s award is especially important, as it is a recognition of a whole field of science: the understanding and modeling of complex systems. Complex systems could be anything from stock markets to a migrating flock of geese, and are usually viewed as impossible to model or draw conclusions from. It is hoped that the Physics award will draw new attention to the field and encourage more in-depth research.
Benjamin List and David MacMillan were awarded the Chemistry prize for their contribution in developing organocatalysis. Organocatalysis is basically a process of catalysis where the catalyst is organic and small. Examples of organic catalysts are biomolecules such as proline, phenylalanine, oligopeptides, and synthetic catalysts derived from biomolecules.
Organocatalysis is a branch of chemistry known as green organic chemistry, and is better for the environment than traditional catalysis as it uses mild reaction conditions and eco-friendly solvents. However, instead of just being green, organocatalysis opens up new fields of research and allows new reactions to be catalyzed. One example would be List’s asymmetric intermolecular, or direct, aldol reactions with up to 96% enantiomeric excess. Organocatalysis as a field is helping all industries with chemical engineering. Because the catalysts aren’t metals, companies can dispose of their waste without damaging the environment. In all, List and MacMillan’s research has helped pharmaceutical research progress and made chemistry greener. In a grim time where ecologists believe the Earth will become uninhabitable by 2050, the prize and its traction will aid organocatalysis in improving the environment step by step.
The Medicine Prize was given to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, who separately discovered the mechanisms of receptors for temperature and touch. The receptors are what allows us to interpret and interact with our environment, and the duo’s research helped our understanding of the basis of heat and force sensory receptors. Many of you have probably experienced spiciness as heat, and the pain of eating something hot when you ate something spicy beforehand. Julius and Patapoutian’s research showed that this experience was due to spiciness and heat being “received” by the same receptor.
The Nobel Prize in Literature was given to Abdulrazak Gurnah, who has used his experience as a refugee to write about the effects of colonialism and the life of a refugee. Gurnah, who was born and raised on the island Zanzibar, had to move to England as a refugee by the end of the 1960s. His experience resounds in his publications, and in an age where refugees and uncertainties about our lives and its direction runs amok, Gurnah’s work has gained international recognition.
Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov are receiving the Nobel Award for Peace. Ressa is receiving the award for exposing the growing authoritarianism in the Philippines. The Duterte regime has carried out various campaigns that have been criticized for violence against Philippine citizens: of those, Ressa has focused on their anti-drug campaign. The anti-drug campaign has killed so many that the death count resembles that of a war; Ressa has spoken out bravely against the regime with her digital journalism company, Rappler since 2012. Muratov is receiving the award for defending the freedom of expression in Russia. From 1993, he has spoken out against Russian society and government censorship through his newspaper, the Novaja Gazeta. The Gazeta has criticized corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud, use of Russian military forces, and so on. Although many journalists involved in the Gazeta were threatened and killed, Muratov did not give up and has continued to fight for nearly 30 years. Authoritarian regimes are difficult to overthrow, and even more difficult to fight against. The Nobel Committee recognized these individuals’ courage and hoped that this publicity will draw attention to the many injustices they are fighting against.
The Nobel Prize in Economics, or to be more precise the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was awarded to David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens. Their work as a whole has provided the world with new insights into the labour market.
Their methods have also gained interest: the use of natural experiments and the conclusions drawn about cause and effect. This use of natural experiments has spread throughout the scientific community and revolutionized empirical research. The mechanisms of the labor market influence everyone on the planet, and Card, Angrist and Imben’s research will serve as the basis for further research and decision making.
The Nobel Prizes receive an enormous amount of attention every year. Although the prizes award money, even more important is the publicity each laureate receives. This year the prizes have contributed to a world-wide movement of concentrating on the ecosystem, especially with the Chemistry and Physics prizes. It is hoped that the resulting interest and funding in the fields will lead scientific research to a better place.