2020 Nobel Prize Winners in Science

Congratulations to the 2020 Nobel Prize Winners!
2020’s winners show us, once again, that Science, like the universe, is ever-expanding and the potential for scientific discovery is unlimited!

Nobel Prize Museum – Stockholm
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer Doudna: for the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a method for genome editing.

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Charpentier and Dr. Doudna are the first team of two women ever to win the
Nobel Prize!  In what has been called
“the most deserved Novel Prize of the past 20 years,” Doudna and Charpentier’s
technique of genome editing has made an absolutely massive contribution to
science, with a potential to revolutionize the entire field of the Life
Sciences. The possibility of genome editing has existed since the 1970’s, but
thanks to Charpentier and Doudna, it is now much more precise and effective, easier,
and with a greater applicability to curing genetic disease than ever
before.  Using “chemical scissors” known
as Cas9, a DNA-cutting enzyme derived from bacteria, the technique can target
and snip up to a single faulty or unwanted gene, just as you would replace a
single letter in a misspelled word.  New
DNA can then be inserted at the snip. 
The insertion is repaired via the body’s natural rNA functions, and the
new DNA functions as normal.  The
CRISPR-Cas9 technique has only existed for 8 years and has already had an
impact on agriculture and pest control. 
Its potential for human medicine is enormous and a CRISPR application
has already cured a human subject of Sickle Cell Anemia.  Their discovery has revolutionized the life sciences
and unleashed incredible new potential. 
As colleague Fyodor Urnov puts it, “the 21st century will be the age of
CRISPR, thanks to Jennifer and Emmanuelle.”

Why the discovery is so major
How CRISPR-Cas9 works
Jennifer Doudna giving a TED talk about her CRISPR technique


Dr. Roger Penrose: for
the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general
theory of relativity

Dr. Reinhard Genzel and Dr. Andrea
Ghez: for the discovery of a supermassive compact object
at the center of our galaxy

Image Source: Pixabay.com

The prize for physics this year is for the proof that there is a supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.  This discovery is spectacular in itself,  but all the more amazing for the fact that it was 60 years in the making!  In the 1960’s Oxford physicist Roger Penrose and his colleague Stephen Hawking used the mathematics of Einstein’s theory of relativity to predict that Black Holes inevitably exist and should be found at the center of every galaxy.  This impressive theoretical proof of black holes was so comprehensive it also reinforced the overall feasibility of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, first expressed in 1907.  In a stunning demonstration of how scientific discoveries are constantly built upon the legacies of those that came before, Penrose first proved the theoretical existence of black holes in the 20th century.  When the telescopic technology to measure them finally caught up to Penrose’s ideas, Dr. Genzel and Dr. Ghez were able to observe and conclusively prove that black holes existed in the 21st century!  Genzel first and then Ghez, building on the previous work, used high powered telescopes in Chile and Hawai’i to carefully observe the motions of stars over several years.  Their careful observations and calculations prove that there is a massive dark object in the milky way with millions of times more mass than the sun, a.k.a., a black hole.  Thanks to these three scientists’ generations of work, we now know beyond any doubt that black holes exist, and they are at the center of every galaxy.

An astronomer explains how the discovery was made
A Q&A with the brilliant Roger Penrose
Andrea Ghez giving a TED talk about her search for a black hole


Dr. Harvey J. Alter, Dr. Charles M. Rice, and Dr. Michael Houghton:
for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus

Image Source: Pixabay.com

In a year marked by a global viral pandemic, the fact that the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to a trio of virologists highlights how important scientific research is to public health.  The three virologists made a massive contribution to the lives and futures of people all over the world with their discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, which affects 71 million people worldwide and kills 400,000  people a year.  Dr. Alter, Dr. Rice, and Dr. Houghton’s discoveries allowed for targeted vaccines,  treatments, and now, a total cure.  Alter, working from the NIH in America, helped discover the Hepatitis B virus in the 1960’s.  But after that discovery, he was confounded by the fact that there was still another unknown disease-causing agent that resulted in hepatitis, especially after blood transfusions.  This unknown form of chronic, blood-borne hepatitis debilitated patients for years before it killed them, and represented a serious global health problem, particularly for vulnerable people in need of transfusions and blood-based treatments.  In work that demonstrates the highly collaborative nature of science today, the three scientists all provided an essential piece of the solution.  Alter was able to demonstrate that what he called Hepatitis C was a virus, Houghton used an untested strategy to isolate the genome of the virus, and Rice provided the evidence that the virus was the cause of Hepatitis C.  Thanks to these three scientists, the millions of people worldwide affected by Hepatitis C now have a chance to be free of this terrible disease. 

The story of the discovery
The Life and Research of Dr. Harvey Alter
Dr. Nazeem Afdhal giving a TED talk on Hep C and the 25 years of work towards a cure

Check out some of these fun at-home science experiments & give them a try! Who knows, you may just be a Nobel Prize winner one day!

All Thumbs
Space Case
Germ Game

A Year of Discovery – Top Science Stories of 2011

This year was another remarkable year in science, with space shuttles retiring and new particles being detected (perhaps). Some of these top discoveries could very well have an immediate effect on our lives. The impact of others may not be felt for years. Some discoveries may vanish altogether. But no matter what, 2011 was a huge year in science & revealed major surprises all across the world! So, go back through the past 12 months with us as we present our list of the most interesting science stories of 2011. 

1. Fukushima Nuclear Accident/Tsunami


On March 11, following astounding video footage of ships passing over farmers’ fields, as the tsunami washed over the Japanese landscape, came news that the nearby nuclear reactor had been compromised. Immediately, news stories recalled Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Fear washed over North America and Europe, as explosions ripped through the reactor buildings. But in fact, no one died from the reactors themselves, and what could have been a major disaster was averted.

Thanks to heroic efforts on the part of the workers at the plant, sea water was poured on the overheated reactor cores and the melting nuclear fuel was prevented from escaping. Radiation that did get out was carried by steam into the atmosphere and water running into the sea, but while it was detectable around the globe, the levels were so low they were less that what we are exposed to naturally.

It will take years to clean up the site, and the accident renewed fear of nuclear power in the public mind, just at a time when many believed the industry was about to experience a renaissance as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

2. 7 Billion and Counting


On Oct. 31 (an arbitrary date chosen by the UN), world population reached seven thousand million, a number that is hard to fathom. If we all joined hands with our arms outstretched, we would form a line that would circle the Earth about 175 times, or reach all the way to the moon and back about nine times. If everyone on Earth lived to the same level of consumption as Canadians, we would need several more Earths to provide all the food, water and energy. It was a time to take a serious look at our impact on the planet, as we continue to gobble up everything in sight and drive species to extinction at a rate similar to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

To ensure our survival, consumption must come down, which is not happening, and most experts say that people living in developing regions need better access to family planning. But the latter issue is more of a cultural and religious issue than a scientific one.

3. Faster than Light?


Scientists in Switzerland fired a beam of neutrinos to a receiving lab in Italy, more than 700 kiometres away, and the sub-atomic particles seemed to arrive a few billionths of a second early, suggesting they had traveled faster than the speed of light. If that is true, the longstanding theories of Einstein would be proven wrong, shaking the very foundations of physics.

The scientists themselves admit their measurements could be wrong, even though they have done the experiment twice. They are calling for other labs in the U.S. and Japan to try the same experiment.

If the results match, we could witness a fundamental change in the way we look at the universe, or at the very least, refine our measurements of it. It won’t likely lead to time travel. Then again, we could just be wrong. New results should come in the next year.

4. Award for The Dark Side


The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of Dark Energy, a mysterious force that is pushing the universe apart.

This is the only force known to work against gravity and it is causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. The odd thing is that Dark Energy, along with Dark Matter, make up 95 per cent of the known universe, yet no one has a clue what either of them is.

Interesting that here in the 21st century, when we think we have so much figured out, most of the universe is still unknown to us. Further work at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which glimpsed the mysterious Higgs Boson, may also discover the nature of Dark Matter.

5. Not the “god Particle”


After half a century of searching for the hypothetical Higgs Boson, scientists at CERN say they got the first glimpses of the particle believed to have been responsible for all the mass in the universe.

Proof of the existence of the Higgs particle validates what is called the Standard Model of the universe, describing events at the very first moments of the Big Bang. The Higgs Boson was suggested as a missing piece of the mathematical model. If it is not proven to exist, physicists would have to re-write the theories of how the universe, as we know it, came into being.

6. End of an Era


After 30 years and more than 100 flights, the space shuttle program ended with the landing of Atlantis last July. Coincidentally, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first human in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Almost to underline the point, now that the shuttles are retired, the only way for Americans to fly up to the International Space Station is to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz rockets, their former rivals.

The shuttles accomplished a lot in space, building the Space Station, launching and repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. But they were also hugely expensive and dangerous. Two shuttles were destroyed in accidents killing 14 astronauts. In the end, each launch of a shuttle was costing more than $1 billion. It was time to let them go.

NASA unveiled plans for a new heavy lift rocket, but it won’t be ready to fly for years. Now it’s up to the Private Sector to take over.

7. Back To Mars and Beyond


While humans are restricted to spaceflight around the Earth, unmanned robotic probes continue to go where no one has gone before. The largest rover ever sent to another planet, Curiosity, was launched to Mars with the goal of looking for signs of life on the Red Planet. It will land next August.

Sadly, an equally ambitious Russian mission to one of the moons of Mars, Phobos, failed to leave Earth orbit and is expected to fall back to Earth in mid-January.

Another probe went beyond Mars to the largest asteroid, named Vesta, revealing a strange-looking round world that is a leftover remnant of the original material that built the planets, including Earth. And in the opposite direction, a probe named Messenger arrived at Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.


Discover more on the amazing science of 2011 with this awesome interactive timeline

Honoring The Two-Time Nobel Prize Winner Marie Curie On Her 144th Birthday!


To honor one of the most enduringly inspiring scientists ever to grace a lab, France and Poland declared 2011 to be the Year of Marie Curie.

Now, Google joins the welcome pageant of prominent tributes.

The California company’s search-engine home page on Nov. 7 celebrates the 144th anniversary of Madame Curie’s birth with a pastel-colored “Google Doodle” so evocative of her era.

Curie is the latest science figure to join Google’s pantheon of “Doodled” researchers, including Thomas Edison and “father of genetics” Gregor Mendel and “Vitamin C” scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi.

The laurels accorded Curie are numerous and still accumulating a century after she won her second Nobel Prize — the first of only two people ever to win the prize in multiple fields (the other being Linus Pauling). She was also the first woman ever to win the Nobel, and the first researcher to win in multiple sciences (physics and chemistry). But the breadth and depth and influence of her career — as well as the triumphs and tragedies of her life — paint a much fuller picture of the groundbreaking figure who in a 2009 New Scientist poll was voted “the most inspirational woman in science.”

Born in Warsaw in 1867 as Maria Sklodowska, Curie left her native Poland after she was deemed too poor to marry her would-be fiance, future esteemed mathematician Kazimierz Zorawski. So with her sister’s help, she relocated to France in the 1890s, studying at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and meeting her scientific “soulmate,” Pierre Curie. As they both studied the science of magnetism, they discovered, too, their own personal magnetic attraction.

Together, Marie and Pierre Curie did pioneering work in radioactivity (a term she coined), working with uranium, isolating radioactive isotopes and discovering the elements radium and polonium — the latter named for her native land.

The Curies shared in the 1903 Nobel for physics, bringing them fame as side by side, they grew their professional and personal lives. They had two daughters before Pierre’s untimely death when he was struck by a horse-drawn vehicle on a rainy street in 1906.

Rendered “wretched” and lonely by the tragedy, Marie Curie poured herself into her work, becoming the first woman to become a Sorbonne professor. In 1911, Curie received her second Nobel, this time for chemistry.

Several years later, during World War I, Curie helped set up mobile field hospitals that featured primitive X-ray equipment to help detect shrapnel in soldiers. She worked in the field with her teenage daughter Irene, who — with her husband, Frederic Joliot-Curie — would later win the 1935 chemistry Nobel for her work on artificial radioactivity.

Exposed to so many radioactive materials throughout her career, Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia in 1934.

In addition to her many honors, she founded the Curie Institutes in France and Poland; co-founded the Warsaw Radium Institute; and headed the Pasteur Institute.

Curie’s accomplishments in the lab led to her being interred (with her husband) at the Pantheon, Paris — the first woman so honored based on her work.

Curie helped forever change not only how science thought about radioactivity, but also how the world perceived women in science.

Happy birthday, Madame Curie.
Watch the Live Google Doodle Here

2011 Nobel Prize Awarded to 3 American Born Astronomers!


“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice…”
What will be the final destiny of the Universe? Probably it will end in ice, if we are to believe this year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics. They have studied several dozen exploding stars, called supernovae, and discovered that the Universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. The discovery came as a complete surprise even to the Laureates themselves.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 was awarded “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae” with one half to Saul Perlmutter  and the other half jointly to Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess.

Read The Full Scoop on NPR.com

Discover the past winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics