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Nobel Committee Announces 2019 Nobel Prize Laureates 

By Ava Zardynezhad, October 25 2019—

Earlier this month, five laureates were presented with the prestigious Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Sweden. The Nobel Prize was established and financially supported by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, in 1895, and first awarded in 1901. These prizes are presented annually by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and the Swedish Academy to recognize innovation and advances in science, humanities and culture. The categories in which the prizes are awarded include Physiology and Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economic Sciences. 


This year, the prizes were awarded to 15 individuals. To start off the week, the Nobel Laureates for Medicine were announced on Oct. 7. Sir Peter J. Ratcliff from Oxford University and the Francis-Crick Institute in London, Gregg L. Semenza from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and William G. Kaelin from the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute at Harvard University in Boston were awarded with the prize for their discovery of how cells of the body sense and respond to changes in oxygen availability. The laureates were able to uncover the physiological and genetic mechanism of how cells respond to varying levels of oxygen in the blood. Knowledge of this mechanism paves the path to finding new treatments for conditions such as anemia, as well as heart disease, cancer and various other conditions. 


Next, the prize in Physics was awarded to three laureates, half of which went to the Canadian James Peebles, a theoretical cosmetologist and an Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University, for his theories regarding how the universe has evolved since the Big Bang until present time. His theories and discoveries, including the discovery of microwave radiations, which are thought to be remaining from 400,000 years after the Big Bang. His other theories include the existence of “cold dark matter” which contributed to the formation of galaxies, as well as other theories regarding dark energy, and the expansion and acceleration of the universe. Swiss astrophysicists Michel Mayor, a professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Geneva, and Didier Queloz, a professor at the University of Geneva, as well as at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, were awarded the other half of the prize. These gentlemen were celebrated for their discovery of a planet outside of our solar system (an exoplanet), 51 Pegasi B, that orbits around another star in the constellation of Pegasus. 


The prize in Chemistry was awarded to John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas, Austin, M. Stanley Wittingham of Binghamton University and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University, for their development of the lithium-ion battery. The lithium-ion battery may be one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century. Today, lithium-ion batteries, or enhanced versions of these batteries are used in our electronics, from phones and laptops to tools and vehicles. Lithium-ion batteries can be easily recharged, and due to their compactness, take up very little space. The proposal and development of these batteries started in the 1970s. Whittingham developed the first functional lithium-ion battery, which had a high risk of explosion. Goodenough improved the battery by modifying it to produce a higher voltage. Yoshino, contributed to making the batteries safer to use, and to make them available to the market. To this day, enhancements are still being made to make lithium-ion safer and more convenient to use. 


The laureate for the Prize in Literature was Peter Handke, a controversial Austrian playwright and novelist. He was awarded the prize for what the Swedish Academy referred to as “an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” Many would consider Handke a Holocaust denier, considering his far-right beliefs surrounding the Yugoslav Wars, his denial of concentration camps, genocide and his public support of the late former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who was on trial for war crimes at the time of his death. Many have criticized the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Foundation, claiming that this judgement dishonours the many men, women and children who fell victim to the genocidal wars. The Swedish Academy has defended their decision. 


The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate was Abiy Ahmed Ali, the prime minister of Ethiopia for his extensive efforts to create peace and international cooperation, most notably through the resolution of two-decade long border conflicts with neighboring Eritrea. Since taking office in 2018, Abiy and his government also played a role in stabilizing relations between Eritrea and Djibouti, as well as mediating conflict between Kenya and Somali over a disputed marine area. Releasing political prisoners and jailed journalists further conveyed his pacifism. However, this award has been quite controversial as some have accused him of “appeasing Westerners.” The Nobel Committee has not responded to criticism.


And finally, the laureates for the prize in Economic Sciences were Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and Michael Kremer of Harvard University in Massachusetts, for their work in finding the best method of alleviating poverty in developing nations. Through various field studies, the trio has been able to focus on finding the causes of poverty in developing nations, and ensuring an evidence-based approach towards the fight against poverty in these areas. The methods established by these individuals has been transformative in the field of development economics. Over the years, these methods have proved to be quite impactful, leading to the provision of remedial tutoring in schools and increasing funding for preventative medicine practices. Duflo is the youngest Nobel laureate, and one of two women who have ever been awarded the Nobel prize in Economic Sciences.

Bonus: 2018’s Literature:

After a sexual abuse scandal postponed the awarding of Literature prize in 2018, the laureate in this category was also announced this year. The 2018 Nobel Laureate in Literature is Olga Tokarczuk, yet another controversial writer. Her win has been attributed to “a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” The Polish writer gained international recognition after her works were translated in English and international success after winning the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In her works, she often draws on sensitive events in Poland’s past. Many nationalists consider her to be a traitor due to her criticism of Poland’s past. Her most recent novel Flights is composed of 116 short pieces that draw on the history of Poland over four decades, as well as taking a look at human nature, and psychology.  

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