Last week, Fjord covered The Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine and part of Physics. To continue on this trend we’re not looking at the rest of the Physics prize and Chemistry prizes given out this year.
1. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018
The second half of the prize is shared by Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for the technique named CPA (Chirped Pulse Amplification). Their revolutionary article was published in 1985 and was the foundation of Strickland’s doctoral thesis. They paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by humankind.
What CPA focuses is on how to create ultrashort, high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material. First, they stretched the laser pulses in time to reduce their peak power, then amplified them, and finally compressed them. In simple terms, if a pulse is compressed in time and becomes shorter, then more light is packed together in the same tiny space – the intensity of the pulse increases dramatically.
CPA allowed more powerful lasers to be used without these potentially damaging side effects and thus expanded the possibilities for laser strength and use. As an added bonus, using CPA technology resulted in more compact laser-producing equipment as well. The technique they developed opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications.
At the same time, Donna Strickland becomes the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963) and Marie Curie (1903). “Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists because they’re out there, I don’t know what to say. I’m honoured to be one of those women,” says Donna Strickland, a Canadian who is an associate professor of physics at the University of Waterloo. “Really? Is that all? I thought there might have been more.” Strickland responded to reporters’ questions, sounding surprised.
The fact that Donna Strickland won the recent prize encourages more females to get more interests in science and also motivate tons of female scientists to pursue higher achievements.
2. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences had decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 with one half to Frances H. Arnold and the other half jointly to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter.
Frances Arnold, awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize, conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals.
Actually, the study is not only about the evolution of proteins, but also the evolution of the ability that people manipulate the microworld. To trace the root of the research, Arnold herself summed it up nicely: “In directed evolution we provide a new niche in the laboratory, so to speak, and encourage the evolution of enzymes to catalyze commercially useful reactions.”
Directed evolution had not only created catalysts that can do all kinds of complex chemistry but has also made manufacturing enzymes and biofuels more environmentally friendly. It is not just an academic exercise. In fact, many of Arnold’s creations have made it into industrial settings. Lipases, modified by directed evolution, are produced in enormous quantities and added to laundry detergents to break down fats.
The other half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is shared by George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. In 1985, George Smith developed an elegant method known as phage display, where a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – can be used to evolve new proteins. Gregory Winter used phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The first one based on this method, adalimumab, was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Since then, phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.
In these two articles, three different types of Nobel Prizes were introduced and discussed briefly. What the writer wants to express is not about learning all the methods and terms, but to admire their outstanding thoughts and firm spirits towards science and technology. The great contribution should be recorded in history and it will keep benefiting mankind in the future.