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nobel-prizeThe Nobel Prizes are given every year to those who have benefited mankind the most in one of six fields: peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry and economics. It is a high honour – and you get a good bit of money too: more than a million dollars American (132,000 metric crowns).

Here are the Nobel Prize winners for 2008:

Peace:

Martti Ahtisaari, a United Nations peacemaker and president of Finland in the late 1990s. For more than 30 years he has gone all over the world to help make peace, in places like the Horn of Africa, Namibia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Aceh in Indonesia. He is particularly proud of Namibia, whose independence from South Africa he helped to work out after many long years. Namibia made him an honorary citizen.

Literature:

Jean-Marie Le Clezio, who is possibly the greatest living French writer. Among his better known works are “Onitsha” (1991) and “Wandering Star” (1992), but it was “The Interrogation” (1963) that made his name. He has travelled the world and even lived with the Embera Indians of Panama for a time. It gave him something of an outsider’s view of life in the West, especially life in its big cities.

Medicine:

This one was split between three scientists: Francoise Barre-Sinoussi (a woman) and Luc Montagnier, both from France, who discovered HIV, the virus that causes Aids, and a German, Harald zur Hausen, who discovered another virus, HPV, which is found in nearly all women with cervical cancer

Physics:

Half of the physics prize goes to Yoichiro Nambu, who discovered the broken symmetry of the universe, and the other half is split between Makoto Kobayashi (not the artist) and Toshihide Maskawa, who applied Nambu’s theory to show that there was an unknown set of quarks, which have since been discovered. Broken symmetry means that the laws of the physics do not work the same way in all directions in space and time. Not what you would expect. All three were born in Japan, but Nambu is now an American.

Chemistry:

Won by two Americans – Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien – and one Japanese scientist – Osamu Shimonura – for their work on GFP – green fluorescent protein. GFP, found in jellyfish, gives off a green light. Shimonura found the protein that was causing the light, Chalfie found a way to put it in other animals to study how parts of the body, healthy or diseased, grow and change, while Tsien found ways to make the light stronger and give off different colours.

Economics:

Paul Krugman, an American economist at Princeton, who has long pointed out what was wrong in President Bush’s policies from the pages of the New York Times. He won the Nobel not for that, but for his work on trade patterns. He has shown how world trade (globalization) has given us huge cities and huge backward regions where people are poor.

For those at home who are keeping score:

  • America: Nambu (Japanese-born), Krugman, Chalfie, Tsien
  • Japan: Kobayashi, Maskawa, Shimonura
  • France: Le Clezio, Barre-Sinoussi, Montagnier
  • Finland: Ahtisaari
  • Germany: zur Hausen

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