February 20, 2013

Americans again shine as Nobel laureates

Five Americans won Nobel Prizes this year, garnering the prestigious awards in chemistry, physics, and economics. We should all take pride in these achievements, continuing the tradition of U.S. dominance in so many categories.

In chemistry, the award was shared by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, a professor at Duke University Medical School and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher, and Dr. Brian Kobilka, of Stanford University School of Medicine. Their work was honored for deciphering the communication system used by the human body to sense the outside world and send messages to cells — like speeding the heart when danger is near. Their research filled a major gap in understanding how cells work and respond to outside signals, and is helping the development of new drugs.

In physics, David Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado, shared the award with a French researcher, who together developed techniques to look in on the most intimate relations between light and matter. Their work enables scientists to observe directly some of the most bizarre effects predicted by quantum laws, and could eventually lead to quantum computers and super accurate clocks. “When we have better clocks, we have better navigation,” explained Dr. Wineland.

In economics, Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley shared the award for their work on market design and matching theory, which related to how people and companies find and select one another in areas ranging from marriage, school choice, or jobs, to organ donations. Their work reveals a deeper understanding of how markets work and puts it to use for the practical benefit of humanity. Shapley broke new theoretical ground in the area and Roth developed concrete uses for it.

Roth, a former Harvard professor, recently accepted a new position at Stanford, and Shapley, a mathematician and economist long associated with game theory, is a professor emeritus at UCLA.

Every fall the Nobel Prize committee in Stockholm, Sweden announces the newest Nobel winners. These brilliant, accomplished, and hard-working individuals are wonderful role models for our young people. We should all do our part to help spread the facts of their accomplishments and our pride as a nation in having them represent us.

We salute them all for their contributions to modern knowledge. Once again, we applaud all the teachers they’ve had at every level throughout the years, who helped form the basis of knowledge that helped lead them to this exalted honor.