2014 Nobel Prizes announced

Brain GPS, blue LEDs and high-resolution fluorescence microscopy. gives us an overview of this year’s science Nobels

The Nobel Prizes were establishjed by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895 Photo credit: Adam Baker

The Nobel Prizes were establishjed by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895
Photo credit: Adam Baker

Physiology or Medicine

  • John O’Keefe, University College London
  • May-Britt Moser, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim
  • Edvard I. Moser, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim

The 2014 Nobel Prize announcements kicked off on Monday 6th October with the prize for Physiology or Medicine. The prize was split between UK based researcher John O’Keefe and Norwegian married couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser, whose research uncovered the GPS system in the brain. O’Keefe first came upon this idea in the 70s, after discovering a type of nerve cell that was always activated in a rat’s brain when it was in a specific place in a room. The Mosers, who met in O’Keefe’s lab in the 90s, went on to discover another type of cell which generates a co-ordinate system for path finding. Together, these ‘place cells’ and ‘grid cells’ form the brain’s inner GPS system, which is how we know where we are and how to get to other places. These findings may help in our understanding of Alzheimer’s and the spatial memory loss that comes with it.

Chemistry

  • Eric Betzig, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Virginia
  • Stefan W. Hell, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Gӧttingen
  • William E. Moerner, Stanford University, California

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three researchers whose combined efforts have led to the development of a new type of high-resolution fluorescence microscopy. In the year 1994, Hell developed Stimulated Emission Depletion microscopy. This uses two laser beams: one to stimulate fluorescent molecules to glow, and another to cancel out all other fluorescence outside of a nanometre sized area. Betzig and Moerner worked separately on single-molecule microscopy, which involves turning the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. They take an image of the same area many times, with just a few molecules glowing each time, and superimpose all the images together to form a super-image to show the structure of a single molecule. Together, these discoveries have created a microscope with a higher resolution than previously thought possible.

Physics

  • Isamu Akasaki, Meijo University and Nagoya University, Japan
  • Hiroshi Amano, Nagoya University, Japan
  • Shuji Nakamura, University of California, Santa Barbara

The Nobel Prize in physics went to the inventors of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs). Red LEDs became available in the 60s, shortly followed by green LEDs, and blue LEDs were the final piece of the puzzle for creating white light from LEDs, but researchers struggled to develop a material that could emit short enough wavelengths to create blue light. In 1986, Akasaki and Amano grew gallium nitride, which they thought would be able to produce blue light, on a sapphire coated with aluminium nitride. Nakamura discovered how positive holes, which are needed for LEDs to work, could be introduces to layers of gallium nitride. Thanks to these Nobel laureates, LED lights are now available as a low-energy and environmentally friendly light source, replacing traditional light bulbs across the world.

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