Break out the beard combs and the almost-matching socks, because it is the biggest week of the year for scientists worldwide! The Nobel Prizes have just been announced in the fields of physics, medicine/physiology and chemistry. (We’ll have to wait a few more white-knuckled days to hear about the prizes for Peace, Literature and Economics.) Coinciding with the announcement of these eminent awards are a few other stories from the scientific arena that deserve their own headlines. It seems like not a day goes by without a “science story” surfacing, and in some cases like these, they’re actually interesting!
5 The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
This prestigious prize will be shared by three scientists, Americans James Rothman and Randy Schekman, and German Thomas Sudhof. Their prize is in recognition of their solving “the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport system. Each cell is a factory that produces and exports molecules… The three Nobel Laureates have discovered the molecular principles that govern how this cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time in the cell.” Essentially, they have helped discover how neurons “talk” to each other, transporting materials (like insulin) around the body. If that makes no sense to you, don’t worry, it makes sense to them. And it just might help the medical community at large better understand how many diseases affect us, leading to better treatments.
4 A British Drug Company May Soon Have a Malaria Vaccine
Malaria is an ancient enemy: the disease has been with us for thousands upon thousands of years, and even today upwards of 750,000 people die from it each year. But over the past few decades, medical researchers have finally begun to fully understand how this “mosquito-borne parasitic disease” works, and what’s more, now drug maker GlaxoSmithKline says they plan to offer an effective malaria vaccine by the year 2015. That would be welcome news for the more than three billion people living in malaria-prone regions.
3 MIT Scientists Build a Robot that Can Build Itself
A team of MIT researchers have created the coolest building blocks on earth. They are called M-Blocks, and they don’t need your help to be played with. These amazing cubes each house tiny (but potent) computers that communicate with other blocks and control an internal “flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 [RPM].” When that rapidly spinning wheel is braked, sped or slowed in various controlled manners, it exerts force on the block housing it, causing the block to move in any variety of desired ways. Thus an apparently scattered pile of M-Blocks can suddenly come together to form a tower, a line, a wall and more. As the blocks are adapted for both smaller and larger (and more complicated) uses, the potential applications of this technology are expansive.
2 The Deadly Mummifying Lake
Lake Natron in Tanzania is not a great place to take a swim. That’s because its temperature can surge up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to kill hapless animals that plunge into the glassy surface. And what’s worse, a toxic brew of sodium carbonate decahydrate awaits those who go for a dip, even if the temperature doesn’t kill them. The high concentration of this special salt has the strange effect of perfectly mummifying the lake’s victims. Scientists believe the same salts were used by the Ancient Egyptians to mummify the bodies of those on their way to the afterlife.
1 The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics
It is hardly a surprise that one of the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics is the man for whom the famed “God particle” was named. Theoretical physicists Peter Higgs (of Higgs-Boson particle luster) and Francois Englert are sharing this year’s prize thanks to their work on explaining the “invisible ocean of energy” creating the mass that binds and balances the entire universe. These gentlemen have spent their lives thinking about the miniscule particles underlying atoms (yes, that’s subatomic, for the record), conceiving of new types of energy, and having their career’s crowned by the Large Hadron Collider production of actual particles matching the theories their brilliant minds had already known were real. Yeah, they get the prize.