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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

Who Are the 2023 Nobel Prize Winners?

This past week, the five winners of the prestigious Nobel Prizes were announced at the Stockholm Concert Hall (Mynewsdesk, Wikimedia Commons)

In 1885, chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel, best known for inventing dynamite, signed his third and last will. In it, he dedicated his entire remaining estate to “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” So, after his death in 1896, the first so-called “Nobel Prizes” were distributed five years later. Since then, 615 prizes have been awarded to nearly 1,000 individuals. This year, the Nobel Foundation met once again to determine the winners of the 2023 Nobel Prizes across six categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics, and peace. These are the winners:

Physics: Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier

The Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier for “experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter.”

Agostini, Krausz, and L’Huillier’s research centered around electrons, subatomic particles that had previously been impossible to study because of their extreme speed. However, the three scientist-laureates used short light pulses (an attosecond, or one billionth of one billionth of a second in length) to capture the relative position of electrons within an atom or molecule. Eva Olsson, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said that this new attosecond science “allows us to address fundamental questions” about the mechanics of electrons that may lead to advances in circuity, drug design, and noninvasive diagnostic medical tools.

Chemistry: Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus, and Alexei Ekimov for “the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots.”

Quantum dots are a type of semiconductor (a crystal used to power electronics). Most semiconductors are very large at the molecular level, but the quantum dot has been squeezed so small that the electrons barely have room to move. “For a long time, nobody thought you could ever actually make such small particles,” explained Johan Aqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. Currently, quantum dots are used to create new colors in LED lights and television screens. They also have biomedical applications, such as enhancing fluorescent imaging tools to identify cancerous tissues. Moving forward, many are hopeful that quantum dots can be used to lead advances in electronics, solar cells, and encrypted quantum information.

Medicine: Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman

The Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their “discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.”

After nearly a decade of research, Karikó and Weissman published their findings in 2005 on “nucleoside base modifications” that stop the immune system from launching an inflammatory attack against lab-made mRNA. Their research, licensed to BioNTech in 2013, proved invaluable in developing the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.

However, Karikó and Weissman’s research was not initially well received. The two researchers met at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) in 1997 and began studying mRNA vaccines shortly after, but the scientific community was slow to latch onto their research. UPenn even demoted Karikó from her track to become a tenured professor because her research was deemed too risky and did not attract enough grant funding. Now, Karikó and Weissman’s research has become the center of international recognition.

Literature: Jon Fosse

The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Jon Fosse for “his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.”

The Nobel Committee for Literature praised the novelist and playwright for his style, which has come to be known as Fosse minimalism. “Fosse presents everyday situations that are instantly recognizable in our own lives. His radical reduction of language and dramatic action expresses the most powerful human emotions of anxiety and powerlessness in the simplest terms,” the committee said. While his work is sometimes experimental—for example, his novel “Septology” unfolds as a single sentence of stream-of-consciousness narration—Fosse commented that he hopes readers “can find a kind of peace in, or from, my writing.”

Economics: Claudia Goldin

The Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Claudia Goldin for “having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes.”

A Harvard University economics professor and the co-director of the Gender in the Economy working group at the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, Goldin is best known for her work exposing the deeply-rooted causes of the gender wage gap and labor market inequality. Published in 1990, Goldin’s book, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, argues that much of the gender pay gap can be attributed to historical discrepancies in education and occupation. At a press conference at Harvard, she explained that women had often been “hidden from view and uncompensated” for doing the same work as their male counterparts.

Randi Hjalmarrsson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Economics, said that Goldin’s research has “vast societal implications.” “Thanks to Claudia Goldin’s groundbreaking research we now know much more about the underlying factors and which barriers may need to be addressed in the future,” added Jakob Svensson, chair of the committee. Godlin is only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, and the first to win it by herself (rather than sharing it). She hailed the decision as an “award for big ideas and for long-term change.”

Peace: Narges Mohammadi

The Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to Narges Mohammadi for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”

Mohammadi is one of Iran’s leading human rights activists, having spent her years campaigning for women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty, a job that “has come with tremendous personal costs,” according to Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee for Peace. She has already been arrested 13 times, convicted five times, and sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison. She is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after she was detained in 2021 on several charges, including spreading propaganda against the state.

“This prize is first and foremost a recognition of the very important work of a whole movement in Iran with its undisputed leader, Narges Mohammadi,” said Reiss-Andersen when he announced the prize in Oslo. “We hope that it is an encouragement to continue the work in whichever form this movement finds to be fitting.” Iran accused the Nobel committee of meddling in internal state affairs and politicizing human rights in the country. However, after being notified of her win, Mohammadi told The New York Times that she would never stop striving for democracy and equality, even if it meant staying in prison. “I also hope this recognition makes Iranians protesting for change stronger and more organized,” Mohammadi added. “Victory is near.”



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