A Nobel Pursuit

 
 

Given its increased association with a series of relevant and world-changing characters, the Nobel prize ceremony has become revitalised of late, writes Conor Murphy

This year’s Nobel prize ceremonies have had their fair share of controversy, but despite this, it has still been a fascinating mix of background influences and giant cultural behemoths.

The 2010 Physics prize went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for “groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”. Graphene is a material that is one atom thick, completely transparent, impossibly strong and has better conductivity than copper. If we can scale it up, a process in which huge funds are being invested, it is thought that it could help solve the energy crisis. This would involve effectively piping renewable electricity across vast chunks of land with an insignificant energy loss compared to the incredibly inefficient transfer of energy via copper wire.

The prize was also notable for having one of the more curious scientists to win. Geim is the first Nobel prize winner to have also won an Ig Nobel prize for a paper he wrote on levitating frogs and has at one time listed a hamster as a co-author on another paper. The Ig Nobel prizes have become notorious for recognising scientists with research in unorthodox fields.

The prize for chemistry went to a team for “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis”. In plain English, this means that they have found a new way to combine carbon atoms, which make up almost everything in existence.

The Nobel Prize for Medicine went to Dr Robert G. Edwards for his groundbreaking work on IVF. . Edwards is responsible for the births of millions of babies, despite huge social uproar and debate along with political controversy. This was largely because the Catholic Church had, and still does, a deep entrenched hatred of IVF.

Much of the controversy stems from the fact that IVF involves the destruction or freezing of the extra-fertilised eggs in the process. This of course brings to mind stem-cell research – if it got more funding from governments and less blocking from said church, these extra embryos could be used in another field of life, saving research instead of it being tossed out. The church has again waded into waters they neither understand nor belong in, by calling the Nobel committee “completely out of order” for awarding Edwards the Medicine prize.

While the Medicine prize controversy grabbed the headlines, the awarding of the prize for Economics has extraordinary relevance for this time of turmoil. It went to a team of a British-Cypriot and two Americans, who presented a theory to explain why people stay unemployed in a growing jobs market. While this work does not automatically offer easy solutions, it is vital for governments trying to get their citizens back in work in recession struck times.

Human rights protester Liu Xiaobo

The awarding of the Peace prize is very relevant, in contrast with the usually out-of-touch past awards systems (the discovery for the chemistry prize actually happened in 1970). In some cases, the awards are seemingly being used as a tool for international pressure towards peace. This was evident last year too, with the award being given to US President Barack Obama, under the debatable contention that he had made very progressive steps toward the achievement of peace in the Muslim world.

However, the awards continue to serve as a signpost to where we should be going. This year, the Peace prize was significantly given to Liu Xiaobo – a man in prison serving an eleven-year sentence for peaceful protests against human rights abuses in China.

With the awarding of the prize to Liu, the Nobel committee have rewarded a leader of a campaign for the most basic rights, who undoubtedly deserves it, but probably won’t be able to collect it unless he is pardoned. This is putting further pressure on a government who wants to look the part of a great and benevolent superpower, rather than just a powerful country, but still has huge strides to make before they can look eye to eye with the rest of the world.

Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer, won the award for Literature for highly politicised works, which have played an important role in the South American fight for freedom from tyranny. It is also a definite nod for the left-wing governments that South America has particular societal desire for. Llosa seems to garner much international acclaim, despite the definite local influences that permeate his work.

If the relevance of the awards is questionable, then look to this year’s set of winners, who are being awarded for their numerous impressive humanitarian efforts.

Another swathe of great people have aided the birth of many, or strived for the human rights of millions in the new world order. Some have written about the constant struggle of their own world and some have created works that describe a struggle underlining the realities of today’s crushed economy. And then to some scientists, who have made today’s world a more efficient place and attempt to make tomorrow’s world possible.

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