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Monday, October 8, 2012

Nobel Prizes Being Announced This Week

The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics was shared by French physicist Serge Haroche and American physicist David Wineland (U. of Colorado at Boulder) for their work in controlling quantum superposition states.  This means they figured out how to study individual photons and individual atoms, respectively, which is really tough to do, as one might imagine.  This work could help lead to breakthroughs in the dream of developing quantum computers, which would theoretically be much faster and more powerful than today's best supercomputers.

The 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to two Americans, Robert Leftkovitz (Duke) and Brian Kobilka (Stanford).  These scientists have been instrumental in figuring out how cells are able to 'smell out' chemicals, allowing the cells to know what is happening in the environment and determine how to respond to the environment.

The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was shared by English scientist John Gurden and Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka, for their discovery "that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent."  This is a big step for stem cell research because one does not need to rely on the controversial stem cells from embryos.  They showed that mature, adult cells can be forced to act immature again, as a stem cell, and then can be used to form any other cell of choice.  For years, embryonic stem cell research was politically, religiously and ethically charged because of the debate over when life begins.  This research allows scientists to largely avoid those questions and still do studies into how stem cells behave.

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