This week’s Good News bulletin brings you everything you need to know about the people who won the Nobel Awards, the people who – as well as contributing to the significant progress of humanity – can also give us a lesson in humility and determination.
Good News is highlighting the Nobel prizes, though they don’t represent one-off news events, because they reward the slow and broader developments that have reshaped the world we live in.
Click the video above to get the full digest and find out more on the following:
The 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in equal shares to Carolyn Bertozzi, Stanford University, California, USA; Morton Meldal, University of Copenhagen, Denmark; and Barry Sharpless, Scripps Research, La Jolla, California, USA.
They received the prize for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.
Click chemistry, coined in 2000, is partly explained by its name. It’s basically snapping molecules together.
They say: imagine if you could attach small chemical buckles to different types of building blocks. Then imagine you could link these buckles together and produce molecules of greater complexity and variation. That’s clicking chemistry.
The other part of the chemistry prize, for the concept of bioorthogonal chemistry, is still in its early phases.
“I think there are probably many new reactions to be discovered and invented,” said Carolyn Bertozzi in a statement.
The biotech industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the medical industry – with new approaches to treating and diagnosing diseases – will be strongly impacted by click chemistry, says Bertozzi.
It’s basically a superpower “that opens the door to all kinds of interesting applications.”
Bertozzi says that before the advent of bioorthogonal chemistry and then the related ‘click chemistry’ developed by professors Sharpless and Meldal, “there was really no way to study certain biological processes. They were just invisible to the scientists. But these chemistries make those processes visible.”
Because the Nobel Academy is in northern Europe, and the winners are announced in the morning, laureates in the Americas are usually woken up to the incredible news.
Watch the video above to see the laureates’ reactions after being told in the early hours of the morning they had won a Nobel Prize.
“Immediately I thought, maybe, maybe it's not real. Maybe it's something, you know. But it was real,” said Morten Meldal, who won the award jointly with Carolyn Bertozzi and Barry Sharpless.
Meldal says his hope is that the award will help persuade young people to take chemistry as a discipline, “which is a little bit difficult at the moment.” He thinks chemistry is the solution to many of our challenges.
Barry Sharpless, the third recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, said he just wanted to create a chemistry that worked "in hours instead of days."
"I guess I've always been impatient. I like to go in the lab, mix up some things that work, and I go on from there. If I have to wait a day or two, I just can't. That's not good. So I'm trying to create a chemistry that moves in hours instead of days," he said.
The 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine to Svante Pääbo, a Swedish scientist, for his discoveries in human evolution.
Pääbo’s sequencing of the DNA of Neanderthals proved that our ancestors had sex and children with them.
"What we do is to look for the genetic material, for DNA from people who have lived here long before us and try to see how they are related to us, and how they are related to other forms of humans that were also here, such as Neanderthals,” he said.
He retrieved genetic material from 40,000-year-old bones, producing a complete Neanderthal genome and opening up the study of ancient DNA as a field.
The scientist, like many of the other laureates, said that what drives his work is mere curiosity. “It is as if you do an archaeological excavation to find out about the past. We make excavations in the human genome.”
But his curiosity had a deep impact; his research has provided key insights into our immune system and what makes us unique compared to our extinct cousins.
“We have discovered, for example, that in the COVID pandemic the greatest risk factor to becoming severely ill and even dying when you're infected with the virus has come over to modern people from Neanderthals,” says Pääbo.
Nils-Göran Larsson, a Nobel Assembly member, has called it "a basic scientific discovery”.
“We already know that it affects our defence against different types of infections for instance, or how we can cope with high altitudes, but like all great discoveries in basic science, more and more insights will come over the next decades."
The 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics
The joint winners of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics were Alain Aspect, from the Universite Paris-Saclay and École Polytechnique Palaiseau, France; John F Clauser, J.F. Clauser and Associates, Walnut Creek, California, USA; and to Anton Zeilinger, from University of Vienna, Austria.
The award celebrates their work in quantum information science and their discoveries on how unseen particles, such as tiny bits of matter, can be linked, or "entangled", with each other, even when they are separated by large distances.
Clauser developed quantum theories first put forward in the 1960s into a practical experiment. Aspect closed a loophole in those theories, and Zeilinger demonstrated a phenomenon called quantum teleportation that effectively allows information to be transmitted over distances.
Their research has provided the foundations for many practical applications of quantum science, particularly encryption.
Clauser said the Nobel had been awarded for work he did more than 50 years ago when he was just a graduate student.
“I wrote a paper in 1969 proposing to do an original experiment testing the foundations of quantum mechanics… everybody told me I was nuts, that I would ruin my career.”
Zeilinger also made reference to the way his work had been dismissed in the past.
“During the first experiments I was sometimes asked by the press, 'What is all of this supposed to be good for?' And I told them: 'I can tell you with pride – this is good for nothing. I am only doing this out of curiosity because I have been excited by quantum physics from the very moment I first heard about it. Because of the mathematical beauty of this description.’”
Zeilinger, who is based at the University of Vienna, said he was grateful to Austrian and European taxpayers, as they have enabled him to pursue his work regardless of the possible benefits it might have.
Alain Aspect, the third winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, thinks quantum “is fantastic.”
“[Quantum] has been on the agenda for more than one century and there are still a lot of mysteries, of stranger things to discover in the quantum. It shows that the quantum is still alive. Because of course this prize today, in my opinion, is anticipating, one… that will one day be on quantum technologies."
The 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature
The highest literary prize went to French author Annie Ernaux. She is the first female French Nobel literature winner and just the 17th woman among the 119 Nobel literature laureates.
Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for literature, said Ernaux's writing is “subordinated throughout the process of time,” adding that “Nowhere else does the power of social conventions over our lives play such an important role as in Les Années.”
Published in English in 2008, The Years has been called the first collective autobiography.
Ernaux gave a moving speech at the Nobel academy: “It is enormous luck that I was able to accomplish this. The Nobel Prize does not seem part of reality for me just yet, but it is true that I feel it brings a new responsibility," she said.
"I will fight until my last breath so that women can choose to be mothers or not to be mothers. It is a fundamental right.”
The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize
The Peace Prize, considered the most significant of them all, and which is awarded to those “who have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind,” was given to Ales Bialiatski, a Belarusian human rights defender; the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties, which has worked to document Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
Oleksandra Romantsova, executive director of the Center for Civil Liberties, took to the stage to make a powerful condemnation of the war in Ukraine and the oppressive Belarusian government:
"The absence of respect towards human rights sooner or later led to the war. Lukashenko and Putin, the whole regime, and all people who commit war crimes with their own hands against humanity must be punished," she said.
Ales Bialiatski is currently in prison, but his recognition was nonetheless applauded.
“I am really honoured and delighted this award was given to Ales Bialiatski… He is a wonderful person, and in 1995 he established the Human Rights Center Viasna in Belarus. He, many times, was in prison for his views, for his intention to protect people and human rights in our country. And, of course, he deserves to be the winner of the Peace Prize," said Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a Belarusian opposition leader.
Tsikhanouskaya said the award to Ales Bialiatski would help to bring more attention to the humanitarian situation in Belarus.
“Ales Bialiatski has now been in prison for more than one year, and he is suffering a lot in punishment cells in prison. But there are thousands of other people who are detained because of their political views.”
Tatyana Glushkova, board member of the Russian Memorial human rights centre, the third laureate of the award, said that after everything that happened in the past several months, the award was a sign that their work, whether it is recognised by Russian authorities or not, it is important, “It is important for the world. It is important for people in Russia."
And that’s all from this special edition of the Good News round-up. If you felt inspired by these extraordinary and passionate people, share this episode with your friends.
See you next time, and remember, some news can be good news.