Archive for the ‘Nobel prize’ Category

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:


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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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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 (113,000 crowns).

Here are the Nobel Prize winners for 2007:



Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for spreading the word about global warming: that the earth is getting dangerously warm because mankind is burning too much oil and coal. The IPCC pulled together the work of 2000 experts and made the science understandable for government decision makers. Al Gore, the former American vice president, took the IPCC’s findings and made a film about it to explain it to ordinary people. It did surprisingly well. Even before the film, Gore has been warning us about this for years.


Doris Lessing, whose best books are “The Grass is Singing” (1950) and “The Golden Notebook” (1962). She was born in Persia and grew up in Africa in the last days of the British empire. In 1949 she went to London to become one of the best British writers of the late 1900s.



Martin Evans, Oliver Smithies and Mario Capecchi for their work in gene targeting. They discovered a way of breeding mice so that they are born without a particular gene. This is called gene knockout. Genes are the instructions your body has for making itself. You have thousands of them, most of them also found in mice. What most of them do no one knows. But by having mice that are born without this or that gene, you can find out what the gene was for, what effect it has. This helps science to learn about the nature of disease and medicine.



Peter Grunberg and Albert Fert for their discovery in 1988 of giant magnetoresistance. They found out that a weak magnetic field, if it is in material that is prepared the right way, can still be read by a computer. This is why an iPod can hold thousands of songs, not just one.



Gerhard Ertl for his work in surface chemistry. Before Ertl no one knew just what effect surfaces have on chemical reactions. He patiently found out how it all works. Because of him the air is cleaner (catalytic converters) and the ground more fertile (getting nitrogen out of the air to put into the soil).



Leonid Hurwicz, Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson for their work in mechanism design theory. They used game theory to find out what rules work best in things like elections and selling public property to private companies. Game theory studies how people act and think in order to win, but it assumes that they are guided mainly by reason and (imperfect) knowledge, like they are in The Economist, not by love, fear and anger, like they are in Shakespeare.

For those at home who are keeping score:

  • America: Gore, Maskin, Myerson, Hurwicz, Capecchi, Smithies
  • Britain: Evans, Lessing
  • Germany: Grunberg, Ertl
  • France: Fert

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The image “https://i0.wp.com/images.derstandard.at/20060326/aung-sang-suu-kyi.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Aung San Suu Kyi (1945- ) is the leader of the movement for democracy in Burma. Her name sounds like “Owng Sahn Soo Chee”. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

In 2007, as I write this, she is under house arrest. She has been in prison or under house arrest for 11 of the past 18 years. Even when she was free in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the government still watched her closely and would not let her leave Rangoon. They would not even let her husband into Burma so he could see her one last time before he died of cancer.

The generals that run Burma will not kill her outright: her father, Aung San, is a hero to the whole country, even to the generals. In the 1940s he fought to free Burma from British and Japanese rule. He was murdered before he could become prime minister. Suu Kyi was two years old at the time.

Like her father, her courage is bottomless. Once she walked right up to a line of soldiers who all had their guns pointed at her ready to shoot.

To her the root of Burma’s troubles is not one of power and violence. They are just side effects of the deeper issue: courage and fear. Because the generals fear the people, they are violent. Because the people fear the generals they do not stand up to them strongly enough to overthrow them.

Her Buddhist faith makes up the heart of her thought, but she has also taken on Western ideas about human rights and democracy and Gandhi’s ideas about bringing change without violence.

Most of her early life was lived quietly abroad: her mother was an ambassador for Burma. Later she went to Oxford University (St Hugh’s) and then married Michael Aris, an English scholar, an expert on Tibet. They had two children.

She raised their family and continued her studies, studying the history of Burma, especially the life of her father.

They had a quiet life in England, but she warned her husband that one day she would have to return to Burma. That day came in 1988 when her mother became very sick. Suu Kyi went back to Burma to care for her.

While she was there huge protests sprang up against the government. The generals sent out their soldiers and killed thousands. She knew what she had to do.

She sent an open letter to the government, demanding a move towards free elections. She spoke at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon to hundreds of thousands. She crossed the country speaking for democracy. She became the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The generals put her and other NLD leaders in prison and let the elections go ahead in 1990. But even with their leaders in prison, the NLD still won a huge victory. The generals never let them take power.

The generals still rule Burma to this day, but her story is not yet over.

– Abagond, 2007.

Update (February 19th 2021): The military allowed limited democracy, starting in in 2010, with Suu Kyi becoming the de facto leader of Burma in 2016. She had no control over the military, yet defended its actions when it ethnically cleansed Rohingya Muslims in 2017! In 2021 the military had her arrested for illegally importing walkie-talkies, which removed her from power.

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) is perhaps the best Russian writer of the 1900s. He is most famous for the “Gulag Archipelago” (1973). Unlike most writers of his time, he has a strong Christian outlook and even looks like a bearded prophet.

For writing the truth about the evils of communist Russia, especially its system of political prisons known as the Gulag, he was a hero in the West and won a Nobel Prize in 1970.

He first wrote about one day of one man in the Gulag in the book that made him famous, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” (1962). Then he detailed the whole system in an 1800-page book called “The Gulag Archipelago.”

In “Gulag” he showed that communism is not evil because Stalin was evil: communism was evil from the ground up. Even Lenin, his hero as a boy, was part of that evil.

He sent the book secretly to the West. In 1974, a few months after it appeared, he was banished.

While he lived in America in the mountains of Vermont, he wrote his Red Wheel series about the history of Russia in the 1910s when the communists took over. Solzhenitsyn was not so much writing as rewriting history from the lies the communists have told of those times.

When he got to America he did not keep quiet about its evils either. In his 1978 speech at Harvard he said that while America has an incredible wealth of things, spiritually it is very poor. (Mother Teresa has said the very same thing). Americans do not act like men, but like animals in a herd – even their leaders, intellectuals and news reporters. They do not recognize evil and stand up to it.

After the fall of communism he returned to Russia in 1994. He crossed Siberia in a train speaking at the towns along the way. He had a television talk show in 1995, but it did poorly.

The new Russia made Solzhenitsyn sad: it had copied all that was worst in the West.

Solzhenitsyn says that if Russia does not get its moral foundation right no amount of money will save it. He longs for a Holy Russia based on God and country. To many Russians he seems old-fashioned and out of touch.

solzhenitsynSolzhenitsyn experienced the Gulag first-hand. After fighting the Germans fearlessly for three years in the Red Army during the Second World War, he was thrown in prison for letters he wrote to an old school friend. The state opened the letters and saw the disrespectful things he said about the man with the moustache. Everyone knew he meant Stalin.

After eight years as a political prisoner of Stalin – a light sentence in those days – he was banished to what is now Kazakhstan. It was ruled by Russia in those days but it was not home. He taught high school and wrote his books in secret.

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