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The 2016 Science Nobel Prizes – What were they given for?

Date: Thu. February 9th, 2017, 4:00 pm-4:00 pm
Location: Rockefeller 301

Harsh Mathur on the prize in Physics; Michael Hinczewski on the prize in Chemistry; and Alan Tartakoff on the prize in Physiology or Medicine. Followed by a reception. 


The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2016 was awarded to David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz for the discovery of states of matter and transitions between these states of matter that could not be understood in terms of the conventional Landau paradigm. Harsh will review the Landau paradigm and describe the specific discoveries for which the prize was awarded: the explanation of a mysterious phase transition in films of superfluid helium by Kosterlitz and Thouless; the discovery by Thouless that ideas of topology rather than symmetry distinguished the newly discovered quantum Hall state of electronic matter from ordinary insulators; and the discovery by Haldane of additional analogous states of quantum matter. These discoveries continue to shape some of the most exciting work in condensed matter physics today.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2016 was awarded to Sauvage, Stoddart and Feringa for molecular machines:  nanoscale devices that can perform mechanical work.  Their achievement involved two revolutionary advances.   The first is in chemical synthesis—creating molecular assemblies with moving parts.  The second is in extracting order out of chaos—controlled motion within the tempest of thermal fluctuations at the molecular scale.  Beyond realizing a long-standing science-fiction fantasy, and opening up a new domain of engineering, these machines have wide-ranging implications.  The talk will highlight how they provide an intriguing analogy to complex molecular machines found in nature, and a testing ground for exploring the fundamental physics of non-equilibrium systems.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2016 was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi.  Alan will explain how Ohsumi used a remarkably simple strategy to initiate studies of an area that had been ready for investigation for some time.  Ohsumi’s genetic approach made it possible to identify the cellular and molecular mechanisms that explain how cells degrade their own organelles.  These events are collectively known as “Autophagy.”  This knowledge has greatly enriched understanding of both basic cell biology and cellular malfunction in disease. 
Page last modified: February 1, 2017