by PhilipJ on 5 October 2006
While there are still a number of Nobels to be awarded, I suspect all those relevant to physics and biology are over (though Pauling did win one for peace, so you never know!), so here’s a brief recap.
The Physics prize this year went to Mather and Smoot for their work on the COBE satellite which measured the cosmic microwave background, which has close ties to the Big Bang theory of cosmology. See Sean Carroll’s take on it here, and this anecdote from Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science. The issue of proprietary or open data formats is, like open access to the literature itself, an important topic that more people should think about.
Since there’s no Nobel for Biology, it is often the case that both the Physiology or Medicine and Chemistry go to very biologically inspired work. In fact, here at SFU they have a tradition of giving “Nobel lectures” by having the faculty members with the most expertise in each prize give talks pitched at the undergraduate level, and a couple of times in recent memory there has been a molecular biologist doing the chemistry talk. This year, both have a strong fundamental molecular biology slant.
The Medicine prize went to Andrew Fire and Craig Mello for their work on RNA intererence (RNAi), whereby double-stranded RNA is able to inhibit the expression” of genes. Alex Pallazo does a double take at The Daily Transcript for nice background information.
The Chemistry prize went to Roger Kornberg for his work on the transcription machinery in eukaryotes. This is the prize causing some minor controversy in the blogosphere because, as Derek Lowe puts it, this is another chemistry prize for biology, and that Kornberg probably wouldn’t even consider himself a chemist!
Perhaps in the future the Nobel committee will need to modify the distinction a little—the walls between chemistry, physics, and biology, particularly at the microscopic level, are basically non-existant. I like the sound of a Nobel Prize for Science. Then they could include those working on macroscopic biology too.