Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nobel Notables 2011

The 2011 Nobel Prizes were awarded this year to the following individuals: ten men and three women, residing in eight nations. Some criticize the Nobel Prizes, but it might be sour grapes (see here and here). In other words, jealously.

No one doubts that there are many other awards and prizes in particular fields, such as The Fields Medal (mathematics), The Priestly Medal (chemistry), and the Man Booker Prize (literature) that carry similar recognition. Yet, the Nobel still carries with it the weight of tradition, and has been the case since the first Nobel was handed out in 1901.

Although two winners have rejected its award (Jean-Paul Sartre for Literature and Lê Ðức Thọ for Peace), itself a statement, most do not. Bravo to this year's winners.


Alfred Noble [1833-1896]: The Noble Founder. "I intend to leave after my death a large fund for the promotion of the peace idea, but I am skeptical as to its results."
Artist Credit:  Gösta Florman (1831–1900)/The Royal Library, Sweden
Here are the 2011 winners, all worthy recipients in their respective areas of achievement and life's work:

Medicine or Physiology: Ralph Steinman of Canada, Bruce Beutler of the United States and Jules Hoffmann of France. The scientific trio were honored for discoveries about the body's disease-fighting immune system. "Taken together, the discoveries of Bruce A. Beutler, Jules A. Hoffmann and Ralph M. Steinman have brought us closer to the goal of treating and preventing infections, cancer and inflammatory diseases by mobilizing and regulating innate and adaptive immunity," the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said. Ralph Steinman was awarded the prize on Monday Oct 3, three days after his death on Friday September 30; the Committee was unaware of his death. [NobelPrize]

: Saul Perlmutter of the United States, Brian P. Schmidt of Australia, and  Adam G. Riess of the United States "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae." As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences put it: "The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma - perhaps the greatest in physics today. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again." [NobelPrize]

Chemistry: Dan Shechtman of Israel. Schectman has been honored "for the discovery of quasicrystals." As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said: "In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves. However, the configuration found in quasicrystals was considered impossible, and Dan Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 has fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter." [NobelPrize]

Literature: Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet, "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality, said the Swedish Academy. His sometimes bleak but graceful work, said the New York Times, "explores themes of isolation, emotion and identity while remaining rooted in the commonplace." [NobelPrize]

Peace: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia,  Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." As the Norwegian Committee put it: "It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent." [NobelPrize]

Economic Sciences: Thomas J. Sargent of the United States, and Christopher A. Sims of the United States "for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy." As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said about this year's winners of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences: "Although Sargent and Sims carried out their research independently, their contributions are complementary in several ways. The laureates' seminal work during the 1970s and 1980s has been adopted by both researchers and policymakers throughout the world. Today, the methods developed by Sargent and Sims are essential tools in macroeconomic analysis."  [NobelPrize]

Each prize comes with an honorarium of 10 million-krona, or nearly $1.5 million (Cdn), along with a medal and a diploma. The ceremony will take place on the anniversary of Alfred Noble's death— December 10, 2011—in Stockholm, Sweden, with the exception of the Peace Prize ceremony, held in Oslo, Norway.