Scientific research can be thankless work. Scientists may spend decades researching, may even have chemical reactions named after them, and only gain recognition in the small corner of their field. The thanklessness of writing literature or working in activism may be even more glum.
But thanks to Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, a handful of those individuals who manage to change the world get deserved recognition every year.
Every year since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to the best professionals in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics and activism.
According to nobelprize.org, each recipient receives a gold medal, a diploma and a big paycheque. This year, the prize money for each category was about $1.5 million; the amount depends on the Nobel Foundation’s income that year.
“For his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
The first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel peace prize, Liu Xiaobo is currently serving 11 years’ jail time in Jinzhou Prison in his home province of Liaoning for some of the very work for which he was awarded the Nobel peace prize.
On Dec. 23, 2009, Liu was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, “a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China.” He pleaded not guilty but was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights.
News sources report that his wife Liu Xia’s lawyers have been unable to contact her since she went into police custody shortly after her husband received the award. Somehow she managed to send a tweet after visiting Mr. Liu.
“Brothers, I’m back,” the tweet read. “I’ve been under house arrest since the 8th and I don’t know when I will see everyone. My mobile phone is out of order and I have no way to receive or make calls. I saw Xiaobo and on the evening of the 9th he learnt in prison of the news of the award.”
As for Mr. Liu, The Syndey Morning Herald reports that the area around the Jinzhou Prison has been road-blocked and phone calls to the prison have gone unanswered.
Liu took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and currently holds a seat on the board of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, an organization of writers who fight for freedom of expression. Wikipedia reports that over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists initially signed Charter 08; since its release, over 8,000 people from inside and outside China have signed.
Andre Geim, Konstantin Novoselov
“For groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”
Graphene is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms, the thinnest and strongest material ever. This may sound exotic, but as professor Ingemar Lundstrom, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, explained, sheets of graphene compose graphite.
“When we make a pencil line, we probably produced graphene without knowing it because graphene is the single mono-layer of carbon atom,” Lundstrom said in a video made after the announcement of the prize.
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first created graphene using a pencil and adhesive tape during fun Friday evening experiments, where Novoselov said in an interview from nobelprize.org, “you do just crazy things and then some of them sometimes come out, sometimes not.
“Graphene was one of those as well.”
The winners are unique, too. Novoselov, 36, is one of the youngest-ever recipients of the Nobel Prize and Andre Geim is the only Nobel Prize winner to have also won an Ig Nobel Prize.
Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi, Akira Suzuki
“For palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.”
All three recipients of this prize have a reaction named after them: the Heck reaction is named for Richard F. Heck, the Suzuki reaction is named for Akira Suzuki and the Negishi reaction is named for Ei-ichi Negishi.
According to a press release, their work in organic chemistry has lead to the commercial production of pharmaceuticals and the creation of molecules used in electronics. Their development of palladium-catalyzed cross coupling has given researchers a tool that allows them to create ever-more sophisticated chemicals.
“We believe we luckily have come up with one of the most versatile, one of the most widely applicable methods for synthesizing,” said Negishi in an interview on nobelprize.org.
Robert G. Edwards
“For the development of in vitro fertilization.”
In some ways, Robert G. Edwards can be seen as the father of four million babies.
Over four million people worldwide have been conceived through the use of Edwards’s innovation, in vitro fertilization. Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, was born on July 25, 1978. Thirty-two years and millions of IVF births later, Edwards is being recognized for his huge contribution to the treatment of infertility.
“As early as the 1950s, Edwards had the vision that IVF could be useful as a treatment for infertility,” reads a press release. “[Today] a new field of medicine has emerged, with Robert Edwards leading the process all the way from the fundamental discoveries to the current, successful IVF therapy.”
Mario Vargas Llosa
“For his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”
Mario Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian writer, known for works including The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros) and The Green House (La casa verde).
In 1990, Llosa ran for president of Peru, and though he lost, he notes his participation in the political conversation at the time was important.
“I think writers are citizens too, you know, and have the moral obligation to participate in the civic debate, in the debate about the solutions to the problems that the societies face,” he said in a nobelprize.org interview. “If you believe in democracy, democracy is participation, and I don’t think writers or artists or intellectuals should exonerate themselves of this moral obligation to participate.”
Sveriges Riksbank economic sciences prize in memory of Alfred Nobel
Peter A. Diamond, Dale T. Mortensen, Christopher A. Pissarides
“For their analysis of markets with search frictions.”
How is it that there can be both job vacancies and unemployment in the same labour market?
Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen and Christopher Pissarides will tell you it’s due to search frictions: when a market has “buyers and sellers who are unable to make contact with one another immediately,” explains a press release.
“The Laureates’ models help us understand the ways in which unemployment, job vacancies, and wages are affected by regulation and economic policy,” reads the press release. “One conclusion is that more generous unemployment benefits give rise to higher unemployment and longer search times.”