By Sam Shaw.

The Nobel Prize in Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics this year was awarded to three scientists; One half of the prize to James Peebles, and one half jointly to Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor. Their efforts have shaped our knowledge of the world around us and its place in the cosmos as well as aiding our understanding of how the universe itself has evolved in its lifetime. 

James Peebles, an affiliate of Princeton University, has worked in the field of Physical Cosmology for over 50 years and is responsible for many contributions to delve into the possible origins of the universe. Much of his work in the 1970’s helped establish what we now know as the “Big Bang model” of the universe, at a time when Physical Cosmology wasn’t considered to be a pressing or particularly quantitative field of science. Peebles was named a 2019 Nobel Laureate in Physics for “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.”

Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor were named as Nobel Laureates in Physics for “the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.” Both affiliates of the University of Geneva, Switzerland Queloz and Mayor were responsible for the discovery of 51 Pegasi b in 1995. This was the first exoplanet (a planet outside our solar system) to be found orbiting a main sequence star and marked a very important breakthrough in astronomical research, leading to our better understanding of the structure and scope of the universe. 

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 has been awarded to John Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their various work towards the development of Lithium-Ion Batteries. 

Something that is no doubt taken for granted – these batteries are powerful, lightweight and rechargeable – in the modern world, they are used in everything from mobile phones to electric cars. Furthermore, they can store vast amounts of energy from renewable sources and are therefore an important step forward in a world that needs to free itself from fossil fuels. 

Stanley Whittingham of the Binghampton University, USA was the one to develop the first Lithium-Ion battery. The oil crisis of the 1970’s lead to a scientific effort to research alternative fuel sources. As part of this Whittingham discovered a material that was very energy-rich and capable of being used to create a battery. In this initial research however, the batteries proved to be far too reactive to be viable and more than likely to explode at a moment’s notice. 

In the early 1980’s John Goodenough of the University of Texas, USA provided a breakthrough that drastically increased the potential power that could be supplied by these batteries, furthering their importance as they were becoming increasingly reliable and would soon be a viable option for storing energy. 

By 1985, Akira Yoshino of Meijo University, Japan created the first truly commercially viable Lithium-Ion battery. As they don’t rely on chemical reactions that break down their electrons, they can be charged hundreds or possibly thousands of times before their performance begins to decline. Since their introduction into our society these batteries have slowly motioned the world forward on a journey to become a fossil fuel-free civilisation. 

The Nobel Prize in Medicine

This year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to William G. Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for “their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.” 

The Nobel Laureates in Medicine discovered “molecular machinery” that is responsible for regulating the behaviour of genes based on the concentration of oxygen in our blood. The ramifications of this discovery have shed new light on how our bodies maintain a variety of their basic functions with such consistency; this “oxygen sensing” aids us from our embryonic development to maintaining proper immune system function and cellular metabolism. 

Beyond this, oxygen sensing plays an important role in a number of serious diseases. Most importantly, this mechanism is used in tumours to alter the cell metabolism to best suit the production of cancerous cells within the body. Further research and development in the wake of this discovery seems to have the potential to create a new wave of more efficient cancer treatments as well as new treatment options and drugs capable of tackling a wide range of medical issues. 

The Nobel Prize in Literature

2019’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Austrian novelist, film director and screenwriter Peter Handke. Known for many novels, plays, poems and films Handke was awarded this year’s prize for “an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”

Best recognised for his novel “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams”, Handke published his first work in 1966 and has remained devoted to his craft ever since. He has received numerous awards with his first being the Georg Büchner Prize in 1976. However, Handke has also drawn much criticism throughout the years by holding a variety of controversial opinions on issues such as the Yugoslav wars; of which he was an outspoken supporter of the Serbs in the 1990’s. 

The decision to award this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to Handke has been met with some  controversy; with many writers, politicians and organisations speaking out against the choice made by the Swedish Academy this year; Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama tweeted: “Never thought [I] would want to vomit because of a Nobel Prize”. 

The Nobel Peace Prize

Finally, the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 has been awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for “his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.” 

Since his rise to Prime Minister in 2018, Ahmed has worked closely with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, in order to provide an essential solution to the border conflict between the two African nations. This culminated in a peace agreement signed by both parties, effectively ending the long-standing “no peace, no war” stance that both countries held prior.

Beyond working tirelessly to promote a healthier relationship with his countries’ bordering nations; Abiy Ahmed spent the first 100 days of his time as Prime Minister granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, dismissing leaders suspected of corruption and lifting Ethiopia’s state of emergency.  Furthermore, Ahmed as pledged to hold free and fair elections in an attempt to strengthen the democratic process of his country. For these reasons, the Etheopian Prime Minister has been awarded 2019’s Nobel Peace Prize.

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