Erin Matheson ‘18

Science Columnist

The Nobel prizes for Chemistry, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were announced Monday, October 4, 2016. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded jointly to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.” The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 was awarded to David J. Thouless; the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter,” and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for “discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.” Laureates in Chemistry and Physics were recognized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and granted the $930,000 prize for furthering scientific discovery. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm recognized Ohsumi for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine centers around a fundamental cellular process for decaying and recycling cellular components. He used baker’s yeast and identified specific genes to unveil the specific machinery that we use to adapt to starvation or infection. The discoveries can help understanding of cancer and neurological disease. The research for the Physics Nobel Prize used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases of matter such as superconductivity. They used conductance and topological concepts to understand the states of matter. The applications of their research is promising for the futures of materials science and electronics.

The research for the Chemistry Nobel Prize began in 1983 when Sauvage joined two circular-shaped molecules and moved them relative to each other. In 1991, Stoddart used the same molecules and moved them along an axle. Feringa used these prior findings and developed a molecular motor that spun continually. 2016’s Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken static molecular systems and transformed them into energy-filled states in which their movements can be controlled. Molecular machines will most likely be used in the development of things such as new materials, sensors and energy storage systems. The potential for growth is similar to that of the electric motor in the early 1800s.

In his Chemistry Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the chemist Stoddart stated, “You must keep supporting the fundamentals of science. Science is global.” His message to further scientific thought and diversity of science is an inspirational one during such fractional times. Researchers that have dedicated their lives to pursuing knowledge are recognized for their groundbreaking discoveries.