Since it was first envisioned in the handwritten will of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prize has gone on to become one of the most prestigious awards on the planet. At the heart of the award is a simple idea with the capacity to inspire millions. Given only to those who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind,” a list of previous winners rapidly turns into a who’s who of twentieth century history. From Albert Einstein to Martin Luther King, it is a prize that strives to recognise the truly exceptional members of the human race.
With 6 awards up for grabs (Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Economics and Peace,) speculation in the run-up to the announcement was rife. Twitter conversations bounced from person to person, articles appeared discussing possible outcomes and the same question burst from everyone’s lips – who would be taking home the prize in 2013?
The week-long series of announcements began on Monday 7th October. In a live broadcast, The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet declared that the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine would be awarded jointly to three scientists: James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”. The prize was awarded for a series of discoveries that pieced together how cells organise their transport systems. Each of the three recipients unravelled a different part of the mystery. The central theme running through the research was the idea of a vesicle: a tiny packet used to transport molecules inside a cell, or from one cell to another.
As Tuesday dawned, it was the turn of the physicists to anxiously await the decision of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. After a slight delay, the honour was shared by François Englert and Peter Higgs “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles…” Earlier this year, scientists working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson – the socalled ‘God particle’. The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the men who first formulated a theory involving the Higgs. The theory seeks to explain how particles obtain mass and forms a central part of the Standard Model of Physics, a description of how the world is constructed.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences took centre stage once again on Wednesday. They declared that the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry would be Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems” The Chemistry prize acknowledges the achievement of combining classical physics with quantum physics to develop computer modelling techniques. The computer programmes developed by these three men are used widely by chemists to simulate molecular systems. This has allowed for many significant chemical advances.
With the conclusion of the three science awards, attention turned to the writers. On Thursday 10th October, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Canadian author
Alice Munro. She was described by the awarding body as the “master of the contemporary short story”. Before the weekend break, The Norwegian Nobel Committee presented the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical
The final golden prize of 2013 was handed out on Monday, bringing an end to the week-long prize giving. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel went to Eugene Fama, Lars Hansen and Rober Shiller “for their empirical analysis of asset prices”.
With the final prize awarded, so concluded another Nobel cycle. Around the world, scientists, economists, writers and politicians will soon be gearing up for 2014, hoping that it might be their turn to receive that most noble of titles and to call themselves a Nobel Prize laureate.