The Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry were awarded this week to scientists for groundbreaking research on climate, complex systems and a new type of catalyst.
Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, 90; Klaus Hasselman, professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg, 89 years old; and Giorgio Parisi, 73, of Sapienza University in Rome, will share the physics prize and a 10 million Swedish kronor (£ 836,000, $ 1.16 million) windfall.
This year’s award is split in two, with Manabe and Hasselman recognized on the one hand for developing models of Earth’s climate, and Parisi on the other for his work on complex systems. Manabe and Hasselman were already known to have predicted global warming from increasing levels of carbon dioxide.
Manabe is a meteorologist and climatologist who pioneered the use of computer simulations to study climate change, while Hasselman is an oceanographer working at the Max Planck Institute, Germany. “When I got the phone call this morning, I was so surprised”, Manabe noted Tuesday.
“Usually, the Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to physicists who make a fundamental contribution to physics. Yes, my work is based on physics, but it is applied physics. Geophysics. This is the first time that the Nobel Prize has been awarded for the kind of work I have done: studying climate change.
Parisi has had a decorated career in theoretical physics, winning numerous internationally recognized awards in fields ranging from quantum field theory to statistical mechanics. He won his share of the Nobel Prize “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic scale to planetary scale.”
“The discoveries recognized this year demonstrate that our knowledge of the climate rests on a solid scientific basis, based on a rigorous analysis of the observations”, Thors Hans Hansson, president of the Nobel Committee of physics, noted in a report. “This year’s winners have all helped us better understand the properties and evolution of complex physical systems.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David MacMillan, both 53 years old and pioneers of organocatalysis in which organic compounds are synthesized to speed up chemical reactions. Scientists previously believed that there were only two types of catalysts: metals and enzymes.
Enzymes regulate chemical processes in our body. Artificial catalysts, on the other hand, must be carefully designed and manufactured in the laboratory. List and MacMillan have shown that there is a third type of catalyst: asymmetric organocatalysis. These molecules are made up of a chain of carbon atoms and often contain elements of oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus or sulfur.
Organocatalysts are more environmentally friendly than metals; they are biodegradable and are used to make materials ranging from shampoo to carpet fibers. “I am shocked, stunned and delighted,” said MacMillan, a Scottish-born researcher and scholar at Princeton University, noted.
List is a German scientist from the Max Planck Institute. The chemistry prize is also accompanied by a reward of 10 million Swedish kronor to be shared between the two men. ®