Your Cheat Sheet to the 2013 Nobel Prizes

Love them or hate them, here we provide you with the sound bytes you’ll need to at least discuss them

Daniel Gasienica

It’s that time of year again. The Nobel Prize announcements—what some call a “tedious inevitability” and others welcome as “the most prestigious award in the world“—are playing out this week. Love them or hate them, you’ll almost definitely find yourself, sometime this week, in a conversation where someone asks, “Wait, what did that guy do to earn that thing?” Here are the sound bytes you’ll need to sound like you’ve been paying attention:


Your eighth grade science teacher probably used the old “cells-are-like-factories” metaphor. This is because cells both produce and export products. James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof discovered the cellular traffic guards that make sure all of that hustle and bustle is regulated. Schekman identified the rules of the road, or the genes needed to control the cellular comings and going; Rothman found the forklifts, or the proteins responsible for transferring cargo to vesicles in the cell; and Südhof pinpointed the traffic guard’s stop-and-go signs, or the signals that mediate when the vesicles drop off their cargo.


Last year, the Higgs boson missed out on the Nobel in physics because it was “too early,” Slate correctly predicted. But this year, the Nobel committee awarded Peter Higgs and Francois Englert the prize for their prediction that the Higgs boson—”the God particle”—exists. First predicted in 1965, the Higgs boson explains how we went from an elementary soup of Big Bang matter and chaos to an ordered systems of massive stars and planets. In March this year, the research teams at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced that 2012 experiments had tentatively confirmed the Higgs boson’s existence.


Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel developed computer programs that bridge in-the-lab experiments with theoretical science. Before Karplus, Levitt and Warshel came along with their fancy model, chemists faced a dilemma of having to chose between modeling chemical reactions based on Newtonian physics or on quantum physics, but not both. Using the powerful program, researchers now can simulate chemical reactions of all complexities and types and can tinker with their chemical parameters—a handy tool for creating new drugs as well as for understanding basic science.


To come on Thursday


To come on Friday

Economic Sciences:

It all culminates on Monday!

And if discussing the specifics of the prizes simply is not your thing, you can always still get into the spirit by following journalist Ed Yong’s advice:

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