By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
The Nobel Foundation awarded this year’s prestigious Nobel Prizes in the categories of Peace, Literature, Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry.
From 1901 to the present, these international awards have recognized top innovators who benefited mankind with their cultural and scientific contributions. They’re named after Alfred Nobel, a wealthy Swedish inventor who left behind his fortune to help fund the Nobel Prizes. His most notable invention was dynamite!
Winners of the Nobel Prize receive millions of dollars in cash prizes, a personal diploma, and a shiny medal. They also become known as a Nobel ‘Laureate’, which refers to the ancient Greek custom of bestowing laurel wreaths on champions. Without further ado, here are this year’s winners…
The Nobel Prize in Physics was given to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald, who discovered that incredibly tiny particles known as neutrinos can change identities quicker than a secret agent. See, physics is the study of matter and its motion through time and space, as well as concepts like energy and force. In physics, a physical body’s ‘mass’ is how much matter it has, whereas weight measures the force of gravity on an object. Neutrinos were long thought to be massless, but the fact they can undergo metamorphosis like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly means they have at least some mass. So, Kajita and McDonald basically made a major breakthrough that changes how we understand the innermost workings of matter… and the universe.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich, and Aziz Sancar, who mapped out how cells repair damaged DNA, the blueprints that tell our cells how to grow. DNA is harmed by everything from the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight to mistakes in DNA copying, which happens millions of times a day during cell division. If our bodies don’t constantly hit the refresh button, tapping into DNA memory like saved computer files to create new cells, we’d fall apart. This year’s chemistry laureates figured out how living cells fix broken DNA, which can be used to develop new cancer treatments!
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, for their unique therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites, and Youyou Tu, whose new drug majorly reduces the deadliness of Malaria. Their work will help hundreds of millions of people each year, especially in impoverished regions where parasites like roundworms cause River Blindness and mosquitoes spread Malaria. As the name suggests, River Blindness causes people to lose their sight, whereas Malaria invades red blood cells to trigger fevers, brain damage, and death.
The Nobel Prize in Literature was presented to Svetlana Alexievich, for her emotionally raw historical works. Svetlana is only the 14th woman to ever win the prize out of 107 winners. Her books include Last Witness, Zinky Boys, The War’s Unwomanly Face, and The Chernobyl Disaster, covering dramatic periods in human history such as war and the downfall of empires. For each book, she records conversations with 500 to 700 people, to write what she characterizes as “a history of human feelings” that captures what people “thought, understood, and remembered during the event.”
The Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed on the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group of 4 organizations that were key in turning Tunisia, the northernmost country in Africa, into a democracy. During an event known as the Arab Spring that began in 2010, a series of uprisings broke out in the Middle East and North Africa, starting with the Tunisian Revolution. By March of 2012, rulers from Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt had been overthrown, conflicts had broken out in Bahrain and Syria, and protests rocked many other nearby nations. While Syria continues to be ripped apart by USA-backed rebels fighting Russia-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State extremists, Tunisia’s transition to a democracy was saved from collapse by the Quartet. They united Tunisian society to create a constitutional system with rights for all, no matter their gender, religion, or political beliefs.
Images courtesy of Nobel Foundation.