Since 1901 the Nobel Prize has recognised individuals for their contribution to scientific and cultural advances. Established by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel through his will, categories include Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and more recently Economic Science which was introduced in 1968. A highly regarded prestigious award, the recipient gains a gold medal, diploma and money amounting to around $1.2 million. 2014 has highlighted a host of talented individuals, who have brought significant advances to their field. The recipients of the Nobel Prize have been gradually announced over the past few weeks, which will culminate in a ceremony on the 10th December. The awards are carefully selected through a nomination process that includes the opinions of experts in relevant fields. The scientific awards acknowledge research that has benefited humankind and provided a deeper understanding of the world.
The first scientific award for Physics, was awarded to three Japanese scientists for their invention of the blue light emitting – diode (LED). Isamu Akashi, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura all contributed to the invention of the LED which is now an integral part of modern society. Producing a more efficient, energy saving light, the LED illuminates the majority of technology including streets, cars, televisions, laptops and mobile phones. Whilst red and green diodes might previously be created, blue diodes were a challenge for the scientific community. However, during the early 1900s, Akashi, Amano and Nakamura met this challenge and produced a bright, long lasting new lighting technology. LEDs may last for up to 100,000 hours, in comparison to 1000 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 for fluorescent lighting. The LED continues to advance and improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world, providing a more affordable, efficient lighting solution for a range of societies.
The second award, for contributions to Chemistry, went to Eric Betzig, Sefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner. These chemists developed the super – resolved fluorescent microscope, which allowed scientists to see beyond optical microscopy and into nanoscopy. The field of nanoscopy visualises the paths of individual molecules inside living cells, producing detailed images of important biological activity. This invention has enabled researchers to see the creation of synapses in the brain, track proteins involved in Pakinson’s, and a number of other important pathways, to gain a better understanding of the human body. This invention constantly produces new advances in the medical field.
The final science related award, in Physiology or Medicine, was given to the scientists who discovered the cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain. One half awarded to John O’Keefe and the other, jointly, to May – Britt Moser and Edvard I. Mosser. Described as the “inner GPS” system, it allows humans to consciously orientate themselves in space. Scientists were challenged by the process by which humans navigate their environment, storing information on their location and being able to plan routes. John O’Keefe laid the foundations for this work in 1971 when he found nerve cells in the hippocampus of a rat, with different cells activating depending on the rat’s location in a room. Later, in 2005, May – Britt and Edvard Moser furthered this research by finding “grid cells” in the brain – a form of nerve cells responsible for people finding their position and visualising new pathways. This work has developed scientist’s understanding of memory and planning.
A light for the future. A fresh perspective on the nanoscale. The discovery of the human GPS system. The individuals involved in this research make up the 889 laureates who have been acknowledged for their important work and its “benefit on humankind”. Recognising this achievement, through the Nobel Prizes, is important in inspiring a new generation of scientists, keen to aim for similar recognition.
How else is scientific achievement acknowledged?