Karplus, Levitt, Warshel win 2013 Nobel prize for chemistry



Francois
Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in
physics on Tuesday for their theoretical discoveries on how subatomic particles
acquire mass.

Their
theories are key to explaining the building blocks of matter and the origins of
the universe. They were confirmed last year by the
discovery of the so-called
Higgs particle, also known as the Higgs boson, at CERN, the Geneva-based
European Organization for Nuclear Research, the Royal Swedish Academy of
Sciences said.

The announcement,
which was widely expected, was delayed by one hour, which is highly unusual.
The academy gave no immediate reason, other than saying on Twitter that it was
“still in session” at the original announcement time. The academy
decides the winners in a majority vote on the day of the announcement.

“I am
overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy,”
Higgs said in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh. “I hope
this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value
of blue-sky research.”

Staffan
Normark, the permanent secretary of the academy, said the academy had tried to
reach Higgs on Tuesday but “all the numbers we tried he did not
answer.” He wouldn’t say if that’s why the announcement was delayed.

By just
awarding the men behind the theoretical discovery of the particle, the prize
committee avoided the tricky issue of picking someone at the CERN laboratory in
Geneva to share the award. Thousands of scientists were involved in the
experiments that confirmed the particle’s existence in experiments last year.

The Nobel
award can only be split by three people.

Englert and
Higgs theorized about the existence of the particle in the 1960s to provide an
answer to a riddle: why matter has mass. The tiny particle, they believed, acts
like molasses on snow — causing other basic building blocks of nature to stick
together, slow down and form atoms.

But decades
would pass before scientists at CERN were able to confirm its existence in July
2012. To find it, they had to build a $10 billion collider in a 17-mile
(27-kilometer) tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.

“I’m
thrilled that this year’s Nobel Prize has gone to particle physics,” said
CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. He said the discovery of the particle at CERN
last year “marks the culmination of decades of intellectual effort by many
people around the world.”

Finding the
particle — often referred to as the “God particle” — required teams
of thousands of scientists and mountains of data from trillions of colliding
protons in the world’s biggest atom smasher — CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The
device produces energies simulating those 1 trillionth to 2 trillionths of a
second after the Big Bang.

Only about
one collision per trillion will produce one of the Higgs bosons in the
collider, and it took CERN some time after the discovery of a new
“Higgs-like” boson to decide that the particle was, in fact, very
much like the Higgs boson expected in the original formulation, rather than a
kind of variant.

The physics
prize was the second of this year’s Nobel awards to be announced. On Monday,
the Nobel Prize in medicine was given to American scientists James Rothman,
Randy Three U.S.-based scientists won this year’s Nobel Prize in
chemistry on Wednesday for developing powerful computer models that others can
use to understand complex chemical interactions and create new drugs.

Research in the 1970s by Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel
has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as
the purification of exhaust fumes or photosynthesis in green leaves, the Royal
Swedish Academy of Sciences said. That kind of knowledge makes it possible to
optimize catalysts for cars or design drugs and solar cells.

“This year’s prize is about taking the chemical experiment to
cyberspace,” said Staffan Normark, the academy’s secretary.

Karplus, an 83-year-old U.S. and Austrian citizen, is affiliated with the
University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. The academy said
Levitt, 66, is a British, U.S., and Israeli citizen and a professor at the
Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel, 72, is a U.S. and Israeli
citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Warshel told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone that he was
“extremely happy” to have been woken up in the middle of the night in
Los Angeles to find out he had won the prize and looks forward to collecting it
in the Swedish capital in December.

“In short, what we developed is a way which requires computers to look,
to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how
exactly it does what it does,” Warshel said.

When scientists wanted to simulate complex chemical processes on computers,
they used to have to choose between software that was based on classical
Newtownian physics or ones based on quantum physics. But the academy said the
three laureates developed computer models that “opened a gate between
these two worlds.”

The strength of their methods is that they can be used to study all kinds of
chemistry, it said.

“Scientists can optimize solar cells, catalysts in motor vehicles or
even drugs, to take but a few examples,” the academy said.

Working together at Harvard in the early 1970s, Karplus and Warshel
developed a computer program that brought together classical and quantum
physics. Warshel later joined forces with Levitt at the Weizeman institute in
Rehovot, Israel, and at the University of Cambridge in Britain, to develop a
program that could be used to study enzymes.

Jeremy Berg, a professor of computational and systems biology at the
University of Pittsburgh, said the winning work gives scientists a way to
understand complicated reactions that involve thousands to millions of atoms.

“There are thousands of laboratories around the world using these
methods, both for basic biochemistry and for things like drug design,”
said Berg, former director of the National Institute of General Medical
Sciences in Bethesda.

Many drug companies use computer simulations to screen substances for their potential as
medicines, which lets them focus their chemistry lab work on those that look
promising, he said.

Marinda Li
Wu, president of the American Chemical Society, was equally enthusiastic about
the award.

“I
think it’s fabulous,” she said in a telephone interview. `’They’re talking
about the partnering of theoreticians with experimentalists, and how this has
led to greater understanding.”

That is
“bringing better understanding to problems that couldn’t be solved
experimentally,” she said. “We’re starting as scientists to better
understand things like how pharmaceutical drugs interact with proteins in our
body to treat diseases. This is very, very exciting.”

Earlier this
week, three Americans won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries about how
key substances are moved around within cells and the physics award went to
British and Belgian scientists whose theories help explain how matter formed in
the universe after the Big Bang.

Read more: foxnews
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