The Nobel Prize In 2009

-By Rishi Shah

The prestigious Nobel Prizes are awarded annually to those persons or institutions for having conferred the greatest benefit to mankind with their work in Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Peace. The prizes were established in 1895 in accordance with the will of a Swedish chemist, inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel who made great fortune with his invention of dynamite. Additionally, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel was instituted by Sweden’s Central Bank only in 1968.

This year the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute granted the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. The trio American professors have unraveled the secrets of how the chromosomes can be copied during cell division and how they are safe-guarded against degradation.

Lengthy thread-alike DNA molecules carry our genes that are packed into chromosomes with telomeres as caps on their ends. If telomeres are shortened, the cells begin ageing. Conversely, if telomerase activity is high and telomere length is maintained, the cellular senescence is delayed. Peculiar inherited diseases are characterised by defective telomerase that indicates damaged cells. The scientists have been honoured for uncovering the fundamental mechanism in the cells that could lead to the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

Likewise, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences offered the Nobel Prize in Physics with half of it going to Charles Kao from Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, Harlow, United Kingdom and Chinese University of Hong Kong for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication. The other half was jointly presented to Willard Boyle and George Smith of Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey, USA for their invention of the imaging semiconductor circuit (CCD sensor).

Low loss optical fibers are indispensable for our current communication society and global broadband communication such as the Internet. Light flowing in thin threads of glass has transferred the speed of telephony and data traffic like text, music, images and video extremely fast around the world. Kao has continuously improved fiber optics with innovative ideas after his breakthrough discovery of transmitting light signals via the glass fiber in 1966.

Boyle and Smith invented the first successful imaging technology using digital sensor Charge-Coupled Device technology that relies on photoelectric effect (elucidated by Albert Einstein, who bagged the Physics Nobel Prize in 1921) and revolutionised photography. Light could be captured electronically and easily processed for innumerable applications in entertainment, academic research and in our daily lives.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has bestowed the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009 jointly to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan from MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, Thomas Steitz of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA and Ada Yonath of Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel for their studies of the design and function of the ribosomes that control the chemistry in all living organisms by producing proteins. Understanding them is tantamount to comprehending the crucially enigmatic core process of how they translate vital DNA information into life.

The researchers have utilised X-ray crystallography to chart out the thorough positioning of innumerable atoms precisely that compose ribosome. They have illustrated the ribosome’s looks and its operation at the atomic level. Production of new antibiotics could benefit from these findings for saving lives and lessen human sufferings.

German author Herta Mueller, who with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose depicts the landscape of the dispossessed, received this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Mueller was born in 1953 in the German-speaking town Nitzkydorf in Banat, Romania. She made her debut with the collection of short stories Niederungen (1982), which was censored in Romania. Later, she published the uncensored version in Germany and Drueckender Tango in Romania.

Mueller narrates life in a small, German-speaking village where corruption, intolerance and repression were evident. Her works highlights the details of daily life under a stagnated dictatorship. In Atemschaukel (2009), Mueller traces the exile of German Romanians in the Soviet Union. She emigrated together with her husband, author Richard Wagner, to Germany. She now lives in Berlin.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has honoured President Barack Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize 2009 for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and promote sustainable cooperation between peoples. President Obama’s vision of and work for a world convincingly void of nuclear weapons has been laudably recognised by the committee.

The president has ushered in a distinct climate in international politics with multilateral diplomacy thereby emphatically encouraging the meaningful role of the United Nations and other international institutions that could play through dialogue and negotiations for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. His constructive commitment to addressing the issues that are triggering the menacing climate change on a global scale along with his conviction of upholding the values of democracy and human rights worldwide has been adulated.

President Obama has drawn the world’s attention and given the people at large the hope for a better future. The committee has endorsed Obama’s appeal: "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Similarly, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences respected American Professors Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University, Bloomington and Oliver Williamson of University of California, Berkeley with the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences for their analysis of economic governance. Elinor Ostrom has exhibited that common property could be successfully managed by user associations. Common property that is poorly managed should be either regulated by the central authorities or privatised.

Studying user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins, Ostrom had observed that resource users adhere to classical postulations and standard mechanisms for decision-making. They rely on enforcement processes to handle dissensions. She has demonstrated that economic analysis could characterise various forms and rules of social organisations for promoting successful outcomes. She becomes the first female Nobel Laureate to win the Nobel Economic Sciences Prize since its inception.


Oliver Williamson has affirmed that business firms would serve as structures for conflict resolution. Economic transactions are undertaken in markets as well as within firms, associations, households and agencies. Economic theory has illuminated the virtues and limitations of markets, but has been traditionally less attentive to alternative institutional arrangements. Markets and hierarchical organizations with governance formats differ in their approaches while solving conflicts. Markets often entail haggling and disagreement as drawbacks and the crucial authority that indulges in mitigating contentions of firms could be abused. Competitive markets perform relatively well because buyers and sellers can settle any distention with their trading partners.

Except for the Nobel Peace Prize which is handed out in Oslo, Norway, the remaining distinguished Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economics are presented in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Each prize constitutes a special gold medal, a diploma and a monetary purse worth 10 million Swedish Kronors (SEK), which is currently equivalent to US$ 1.4 million.


(Source: The Rising Nepal, National English Daily,October 21,2009)

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