Nobel Prize News: Medicine Prize Update & Physics Prize

Yesterday the medicine prize was awarded to Dr Steinman, and then it soon emerged that he had  passed away days before. Now, since the prize rules state that they cannot be awarded posthumously, there was a bit of a fuss about what would they do? I speculated that they would let it stand, and guess what, that is exactly what they did.

Following an emergency meeting of officials at the Nobel assembly yesterday, it was decided that, in this instance, the rules could be ignored. The Nobel foundation concluded that the award should stand, saying:

“The Nobel prize to Ralph Steinman was made in good faith, based on the assumption that the Nobel laureate was alive.”

I’m truly glad they have done this, it is indeed the best outcome here. Now on to todays prize for Physics.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 has been awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P Schmidt and Adam G Riess for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe. Looking at the picture here, thats (from left to right), Adam Riess, Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter.

One half goes to Saul Perlmutter and the other half jointly to Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess.

You can find the Press release here.

Written in the stars

“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice…” *
What will be the final destiny of the Universe? Probably it will end in ice, if we are to believe this year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics. They have studied several dozen exploding stars, called supernovae, and discovered that the Universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. The discovery came as a complete surprise even to the Laureates themselves.

In 1998, cosmology was shaken at its foundations as two research teams presented their findings. Headed by Saul Perlmutter, one of the teams had set to work in 1988. Brian Schmidt headed another team, launched at the end of 1994, where Adam Riess was to play a crucial role.

The research teams raced to map the Universe by locating the most distant supernovae. More sophisticated telescopes on the ground and in space, as well as more powerful computers and new digital imaging sensors (CCD, Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009), opened the possibility in the 1990s to add more pieces to the cosmological puzzle.

The teams used a particular kind of supernova, called type Ia supernova. It is an explosion of an old compact star that is as heavy as the Sun but as small as the Earth. A single such supernova can emit as much light as a whole galaxy. All in all, the two research teams found over 50 distant supernovae whose light was weaker than expected – this was a sign that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating. The potential pitfalls had been numerous, and the scientists found reassurance in the fact that both groups had reached the same astonishing conclusion.

For almost a century, the Universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago. However, the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the Universe will end in ice.

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.

Tomorrow it is Chemistry.

1 thought on “Nobel Prize News: Medicine Prize Update & Physics Prize”

  1. Clearly a good decision on the medicine prize. Given that Nobel prizes are often awarded many years, sometimes decades, after the work done to earn them, should the committee not reconsider their somewhat dogmatic approach to posthumous awards?


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