Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

As per annual tradition, various Swedish and Norwegian academies and committees awarded the Nobel Prizes last week in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

The first category of prizes to be awarded was Medicine. Last Monday, the Karolinska Institute bestowed that honor on three Americans – Randy Schekman, Thomas Südhof, and James Rothman – for their research into molecular transportation systems within cells. The three scientists, working out of UC-Berkeley, Stanford and Yale, respectively, each made discoveries that contributed to the understanding of how vesicles containing molecules within cells are moved to the right places at the right time.

On Tuesday Oct. 8, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences gave the Nobel Prize in Physics to Peter Higgs and François Englert, two scientists who have worked for almost half a century on finding the Higgs boson. The particle, named after Peter Higgs, helps complete physicists’ understanding of the Standard Model, which has been instrumental in explaining the apparent order of the universe. Known by many outside the science community as the “God particle” for its centrality to our understanding of the universe, the Higgs boson was finally discovered earlier this year by the Large Hadron Collider, a massive particle accelerator straddling the French-Swiss border.

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded the following day to a group of three American scientists who worked with computer programs to study complex chemical systems and reactions that are difficult to observe in traditional lab experiments. The three scientists – Martin Karplus of Harvard, Michael Levitt of Stanford, and Arieh Warshel of USC – began working together in the early 1970’s to harness the power of computer programs in simulating chemical behavior and incorporating quantum mechanics.

The Swedish Academy announced Alice Munro, a prolific short-story writer from Canada, as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday. At age 82, Alice Munro published her 14th — and what she has hinted may be her last — collection of stories last year, after 45 years of writing. Her stories are well-known in contemporary literary circles for themes of rural life, feminism, and human nature. Munro is just the 13th woman in the century-long history of the Nobel to win the prize for Literature.

By far the most prestigious of the Nobels, the Peace Prize was awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee last Friday to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for their work in helping eradicate “unconventional weapons” around the world. The organization sent inspectors to sites of chemical attacks in Syria earlier this year. This choice surprised many people as the organization works in relative obscurity. The organization has been operating since 1997, when the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed by most nations of the world. This is the second consecutive year that the Peace Prize has been awarded to an organization after the European Union won it in 2012. Prior to the announcement, Malala Yousefzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban after speaking out for girls education, was the media favorite to win.

The last set of Nobels was awarded for Economics to Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen of the University of Chicago, and Robert Shiller of Yale. The three Americans were honored for their theories on asset prices in markets, including comparing price movements in the short-run and long-run. Though they did not collaborate, the three economists collectively concluded that rational and irrational factors both affect markets.

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