October 7, 2013 1:39 pm
It’s that time of year again. The Nobel Prize announcements—what some call a “tedious inevitability” and others welcome as “the most prestigious award in the world“—are playing out this week. Love them or hate them, you’ll almost definitely find yourself, sometime this week, in a conversation where someone asks, “Wait, what did that guy do to earn that thing?” Here are the sound bytes you’ll need to sound like you’ve been paying attention:
Your eighth grade science teacher probably used the old “cells-are-like-factories” metaphor. This is because cells both produce and export products. James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof discovered the cellular traffic guards that make sure all of that hustle and bustle is regulated. Schekman identified the rules of the road, or the genes needed to control the cellular comings and going; Rothman found the forklifts, or the proteins responsible for transferring cargo to vesicles in the cell; and Südhof pinpointed the traffic guard’s stop-and-go signs, or the signals that mediate when the vesicles drop off their cargo.
Last year, the Higgs boson missed out on the Nobel in physics because it was “too early,” Slate correctly predicted. But this year, the Nobel committee awarded Peter Higgs and Francois Englert the prize for their prediction that the Higgs boson—”the God particle”—exists. First predicted in 1965, the Higgs boson explains how we went from an elementary soup of Big Bang matter and chaos to an ordered systems of massive stars and planets. In March this year, the research teams at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced that 2012 experiments had tentatively confirmed the Higgs boson’s existence.
Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel developed computer programs that bridge in-the-lab experiments with theoretical science. Before Karplus, Levitt and Warshel came along with their fancy model, chemists faced a dilemma of having to chose between modeling chemical reactions based on Newtonian physics or on quantum physics, but not both. Using the powerful program, researchers now can simulate chemical reactions of all complexities and types and can tinker with their chemical parameters—a handy tool for creating new drugs as well as for understanding basic science.
Alice Munro, the first Canadian writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature since 1976, writes short stories, known for their ability to capture the fine resolutions of nuance that color human interactions and feelings. “She is our Chekhov,” one contemporary said.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received the Nobel Peace Prize for its ongoing efforts to stamp out chemical weapons. The group was launched in 1997 and aims to stop the production and storage of such weapons. Most recently, OPCW was deployed to Syria following a deadly sarin gas attack in August. But the Prize is meant not only to honor those efforts but also to draw attention to the ongoing push to convince nations—including the U.S. and Russia—to disarm their own stores of chemical weapons.
Three American professors, Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller, each contributed to the discovery that, even if in the short term stock prices fluctuate erratically, in the long term—over three to five years—they’re predictable.
And if discussing the specifics of the prizes simply is not your thing, you can always still get into the spirit by following journalist Ed Yong’s advice:
If you are similarly bored with Nobel hype, consider putting on a fake Swedish accent and prank-calling your colleagues.
— Ed Yong (@edyong209) October 7, 2013
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