2010 Nobels recognize potential of basic science to shape the world
A technology that has brought 4 million babies into the world
over the past three decades has been recognized with a Nobel Prize,
along with two innovations that promise to revolutionize how those
children live in the 21st century.
The 2010 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine went to Robert
Edwards of the University of Cambridge in England for pioneering in
vitro fertilization, a process that overcomes many causes of
infertility by creating embryos outside the body and implanting
them in a prospective mothers uterus.
Edwards began research on IVF in the 1950s and later worked with
gynecologist Patrick Steptoe. In the late 1960s Edwards was the
first to try human egg removal and fertilization in vitro, a Latin
term meaning in glass.
By a brilliant combination of basic and applied medical
research, Edwards overcame one technical hurdle after another in
his persistence to discover a method that would help to alleviate
infertility, the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute stated
in announcing the prize.
Ultimately, Edwards efforts gave rise to both a medical breakthrough and a now-outdated term test-tube baby. The first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born July 25, 1978.
One winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, Konstantin
Novoselov, was little more than a toddler at the time. Now 36, he
and Andre Geim, both of the University of Manchester in England,
published their Nobel-winning discovery just six years ago in
Science (SN: 10/23/04, p.
259). Since then almost 50,000 research papers have been
published on graphene, the material the pair isolated from graphite
using ordinary adhesive tape.
Graphene is made of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb
pattern, forming a single layer so thin that its nearly
see-through. For such a humble material, graphene displays some
remarkable properties: It conducts electrons with extremely low
resistance, can conduct heat 10 times better than copper and
exhibits strange quantum effects. Graphene is also flexible and
stronger than steel. The substance could form the basis for new
kinds of electronics, transparent displays, efficient solar panels
or lightweight plastic composite materials for use in aerospace and
When you couple it with all of the applications, thats what
whips physicists into a frenzy, says Joseph Stroscio of the
National Institute of Standards and Technologys Gaithersburg, Md.,
campus. Its an amazing little material.
The winners of the chemistry prize developed ways to use another
amazing material, the precious metal palladium, as a catalyst to
build large molecules out of carbon atoms. The techniques the trio
developed are already used in producing thin-screen displays and a
host of drugs, including antibiotics, chemotherapy agents and the
anti-inflammatory naproxen. More applications are bound to come as
chemists continue to refine the technique, the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences said in naming the winners: Richard Heck, who
retired in 1989 from the University of Delaware in Newark; Ei-ichi
Negishi of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.; and Akira
Suzuki of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.
All three figured out ways to make chemical reactions go by
using palladium to disconnect and connect particular atoms with
speed and efficiency. Known as palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling
reactions, different versions of the process already bear the names
of each Nobel winner and are familiar to organic chemistry
students, as well as those in industry and academia. The research
that led to the prizes began back in the 1950s and has become part
of the standard toolkit of chemists.
This is fundamental carbon chemistry at its best, says Joseph Francisco, a Purdue chemist and president of the American Chemical Society.
This years Nobel Prizes are worth 10 million Swedish kronor each, or about $1.5 million. Geim and Novoselov will split their prize evenly, as will Heck, Negishi and Suzuki.
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