There is no dearth of awards in sciences, especially with pace of research accelerating exponentially due to technological innovation, but Nobel still stands as a gold standard. The awards, started in 1901, have been conferred to over 900 recipients, 573 of whom have been researchers in physics, chemistry and medicine. While there has been a trend in chemistry, with the awards being given for studies relating to molecular technology over the last two years, physics and medicine or physiology have witnessed diverse representation each year.
This year’s Nobel for medicine went to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discovery of mechanisms for autophagy, the process by which new cells replace the old ones. Deciphering autophagy mechanisms is an important step in deconstructing the evolution of cells within organisms; it has far-reaching implications for the treatment of cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. On the other hand, the awards in chemistry and physics have been shared by three people in each of the fields. The chemistry prize, awarded on Thursday, went to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L Feringa for the design and synthesis of molecular machines, while the physics award has been conferred on three British-born scientists, David J Thouless, F Duncan M Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz for their theoretical discovery of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter. Increasingly, the sciences’ Nobel is moving towards honouring new-age technologies that are more application-oriented.