A celebration of inner and outer space
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.
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.
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.