Monday, October 10, 2016

NOBEL PRIZE - Picking the Winners

"The amazing, complicated science of the Nobel winners explained" PBS NewsHour 10/5/2016


SUMMARY:  A trio of scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for creating some of the world's tiniest machines.  Their nanorobots use extremely controlled movements to perform tasks that the creators hope will one day be useful in the world of medicine.  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss these mini machines and the other science and medicine Nobels awarded this week.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The latest winners are in the field of chemistry, and the Nobel went to a trio of scientists who helped pioneer tiny molecular machines in the world of Nanotechnology.  These are specially designed molecules that can produce controlled movements.  And there's talk they could some day be useful in the world of medicine.

Our science correspondent, Miles O'Brien, is here to walk us through the significance of this and the other Nobels awarded this week.  He joins us tonight from San Diego.

Miles; Drs. Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard Feringa, for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.  How small are we talking?

MILES O'BRIEN (NewsHour):  Well, think of a nanometer.

A nanometer is — well, there are 80,000 of them in a human hair.  That will give you an idea.  We're talking very small.  Imagine machines at the molecular level that can do work, and some of the applications that we're thinking about are potentially drug delivery inside our system, and many others where tiny machines can pack a punch.

Another application they're looking at potentially, Hari, is creating computer storage capability at the atomic level.  Well, if you're storing things at the atomic level, you basically need a processor that is at the molecular model.

And so nanomachines are potentially revolutionary.  We're still very early on, though, in that game.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  How do you build something that small?

MILES O'BRIEN:  It's basically a chemical process that you engage with, and that is part of their insight.

And, you know, basically, the researchers are saying that we're kind of like the Wright Brothers at this point.  We built a flying machine, but how could you possibly have conceived of the 747 at the time that occurred?

These mechanisms, these tiny nanomachines, have the capability of revolutionizing medicine, revolutionizing computer storage, and really who knows what, because we can't imagine that 747.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, let's shift to physics.

The Nobel was given to David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Michael Kosterlitz for something called topological phase transitions and phases of matter.  I need an advanced degree just to understand what the prize was for.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Yes, yes, it's — this is a tough one.  It's a lot of mathematics and physics.  And it's difficult, frankly.  It's tough sledding.

But it is a very human moment involved.  There is a very human moment involved.  Dr.  Kosterlitz got the word in his car.  Listen to his response.

QUESTION:  We run the official Web site for the Nobel Prize.  Have you already heard the news of the announcements to the physics…

DR. MICHAEL KOSTERLITZ, Nobel Prize Winner:  No, haven't heard anything.  I'm talking from an underground car park in Helsinki, Finland, right now.  So, I can barely hear you.

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