Nobel Prize 2015: Eleven New Laureates Whose Contributions Brighten the World

WikiMedia+Commons

WikiMedia Commons

The Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies will be held on December 10, 2015 by the Nobel Prize Committee with the attendance of King Harald V of Norway. The world’s attention will turn to Oslo where lectures from these eleven new laureates will aim to inform and inspire: distinguished researchers, inventors, and authors who are enriching our global community with innovation will share the progress made in their respective fields.

On November 27 of 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris. When this will was opened posthumously, the Nobel Prize was officially established. Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, left the remainder of his tremendous wealth for the establishment of the Nobel Prize. Strategically leaving his capital to an investor, who directed all interest made from the investment to fund future Nobel Prizes, Nobel arranged to designate an equal sum of money to five distinct awards: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. According to his will, Nobel wished that later generations could “endow prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”

The Nobel Prize in Physics this year is awarded to Takaai Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald for their discovery of neutrino oscillations. This concept of flavor-changing neutrinos shows that the neutrino, an elementary particle with zero charge, has mass, a significant fraction of the mass of the universe. The fact that flavor-changing neutrinos exist could give insight into the matter-antimatter puzzle, as an example of how matter behaves differently from its antimatter cousin.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is shared by Tomas Lindahl from Cancer Research Center UK; Paul Modrich, professor of biochemistry at Duke University; and Aziz Sancar, a Turkish and American biochemist. They have worked extensively with the mechanistic studies of DNA repair, which can be applied to curing cancer and rectifying genetic flaws and hereditary diseases.

One half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is shared between William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura who developed Avermectin (the parent drug of Ivermectin, which was used to eradicate river blindness and significantly reduce the incidence of elephantiasis, both of which are caused by roundworm parasites.) The other half is awarded to Tu Youyou for her discoveries concerning Artemisinin, now a standard anti-malarial treatment in Africa and Asia. According to the World Health Organization in 2000, this novel therapy inspired by Chinese traditional medicine saved approximately 1.5 million people from death caused by malaria. As the first Chinese laureate for the science section of Nobel Prize, the success of Tu has set high hopes for other scientists in China.

The Nobel Prize in Literature, a sacred title for any writer or journalist throughout the world, was awarded to a Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich for her polyphonic writings, a style that features a multitude of voices and perspectives to form a narrative. First-hand accounts and oral history in her books chronicles life in Soviet Russia, especially through the eyes of women and children. In the past and present of Russia, she writes in Voices from Chernobyl, there exists “an eternal dialog of the executioners and the victims.” According to the Moscow Times, her first book, War’s Unwomanly Face (1985), sold more than two million copies and immediately became a best selling novel. Readers around the world know her as “memory keeper” for her vivid documentation of the horrors of war. However, critics argue that political factors, including her denunciation of the Russian government and Putin for their annexation of Crimea in 2014, greatly influenced the consideration for her prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize was given to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a pro-democracy group that has facilitated conversations between Islamic parties and secular parties after Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. The International Peace Bureau approved of how this year’s award was “a bottom-up prize rather than another top-down one,” given to a grassroots organization. The coalition consists of four organizations: the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. Because of their insistence on human rights and on the interests of all Tunisian people, the quartet has been so successful in compromising and working past political and religious divides

Besides these famous five prizes that originated from Alfred Nobel’s direct will, there is another significant part of the modern world that needs attention: economy, or economic science. In 1968, Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, established this new prize with a donation to the Nobel Foundation. Angus Deaton, an English economic investigator, was honored with the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his investigation in consumption, poverty, and welfare. Surprisingly, the Nobel Prize committee seems very interested in his investigation because “his research has helped transform the fields of microeconomics development.” In short, because every consumer has different preferences, the collected data of total consumption by the government need to be more precise. Concentrating on microanalysis for individual consumption is vital for making policies that benefit as many people as possible according to each person’s preferences. Therefore, Deaton’s winning position shows the new trend for the Nobel Prize committee’s selection: the depth of theory is critical but the contribution must produce profound results and leave a lasting influence on current policies.