A cel­e­bra­tion of in­ner and outer space

The Guardian Weekly - - Discovery -

Physics

Three US physi­cists won the No­bel prize in physics for the first ob­ser­va­tions of grav­i­ta­tional waves. Rainer Weiss was awarded one-half of the 9m Swedish kro­nor ($1.1m) prize. Kip Thorne and Barry Bar­ish will share the other half. All three played lead­ing roles in the Laser In­ter­fer­om­e­ter Grav­i­ta­tional-Wave Ob­ser­va­tory, or Ligo, ex­per­i­ment, which in 2015 made the first his­toric ob­ser­va­tion of grav­i­ta­tional waves trig­gered by the vi­o­lent merger of two black holes a bil­lion light years away. The Ligo de­tec­tions con­firmed Ein­stein’s cen­tury-old pre­dic­tion that dur­ing cat­a­clysmic events the fab­ric of space-time it­self can be stretched.

Medicine

The No­bel prize in phys­i­ol­ogy or medicine has been awarded to a trio of US sci­en­tists for their dis­cov­er­ies on the molec­u­lar mech­a­nisms con­trol­ling cir­ca­dian rhythms – the 24-hour body clock. The team iden­ti­fied a gene within fruit flies that con­trols the crea­tures’ daily rhythm, known as the “pe­riod” gene. This gene en­codes a pro­tein within the cell dur­ing the night that then de­grades dur­ing the day. Jef­frey C Hall, 72, has re­tired but spent most of his ca­reer at Bran­deis Uni­ver­sity in Waltham, Mas­sachusetts, where fel­low lau­re­ate Michael Ros­bash, 73, is a fac­ulty mem­ber. Michael W Young, 68, works at Rock­e­feller Uni­ver­sity in New York.

Chem­istry

The No­bel prize in chem­istry has been awarded for de­vel­op­ing a tech­nique to pro­duce images of the mol­e­cules of life frozen in time. Jacques Dubo­chet, Joachim Frank and Richard Hen­der­son de­vel­oped a tech­nique called cry­o­elec­tron mi­croscopy that has al­lowed the struc­ture of biomolecules to be stud­ied in high-res­o­lu­tion. Hen­der­son, a Scot­tish sci­en­tist and pro­fes­sor at the MRC Lab­o­ra­tory of Molec­u­lar Bi­ol­ogy, suc­ceeded in us­ing one of th­ese mi­cro­scopes to gen­er­ate the first three-di­men­sional im­age of a pro­tein at atomic res­o­lu­tion. Frank, a Ger­man­born pro­fes­sor at Columbia Uni­ver­sity in New York, made the tech­nol­ogy more gen­er­ally ap­pli­ca­ble. Dubo­chet, who is Swiss and an hon­orary pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Lau­sanne, re­fined a vit­ri­fi­ca­tion tech­nique that al­lowed biomolecules to be rapidly frozen while re­tain­ing their nat­u­ral shape.

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