Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Nobel Prize Week! Great work rewarded, accolades all around.

Yesterday's announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells," may have left you wondering what sort of machine is inside your cells.  The Nobel Prize press release explains it quite nicely: "Each cell is a factory that produces and exports molecules. For instance, insulin is manufactured and released into the blood and chemical signals called neurotransmitters are sent from one nerve cell to another. These molecules are transported around the cell in small packages called vesicles."  I especially appreciate the analogy to a busy port, with the challenges of traffic congestion, docking and timing handled by genes encoding specialized proteins and the aid of highly targeted neurotransmitters.  Incredible activity taking place inside us, every nanosecond!  It is worth noting that Schekman, a professor in the department of molecular and cellular medicine at the University of California at Berkeley, is editor in chief of eLife, an open-access, scientist-driven journal founded in 2011. Read more at Chronicle of Higher Education.

The work of the physicists lauded today, François Englert and Peter W. Higgs, is more familiar to the lay reader, given popular media attention to the Higgs boson.  Nobel Prize in Physics press release:  "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."  Check out this book for some broader context: The infinity puzzle : quantum field theory and the hunt for an orderly universe / Frank Close.

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