Quantum physics, click chemistry and evolutionary breakthroughs were the dominant themes of this year’s winners of the world’s best-known scientific accolades, the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Physics and Medicine/Physiology.
Barry Sharpless (USA), Morten Meldal (Denmark) and Carolyn Bertozzi (USA) were co-recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in recognition of their work in click and bioorthogonal chemistry. Sharpless previously won the prize in 2011 for its work on chiral catalysts.
The physics prize was shared by another trio – Alain Aspect (France), John F Clauser (USA) and Anton Zeilinger (Austria) for, the prize committee said, “experiments with entangled photons, establishing violation of Bell’s inequalities and pioneering quantum information”. Science”.
Each prize is worth the equivalent of £0.8 million, to be shared equally among the winners in their respective category. However, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine this year goes to a single winner, Svante Pääbo (Sweden).
Pääbo’s research team is credited with the 2010 identification of the previously unknown Denisovan hominin species, since established to have coexisted with Neanderthals and Homo sapiensand whose genes persist in a minority of modern humans in Asia.
His research on Neanderthal DNA has also identified interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiensto suggest how it impacted the immune system of modern humans.
The Nobel Prize organizers said of his work, on the organization’s website: “[His] research has given rise to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics. By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his findings provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, Johan Åqvist, praised this year’s winners in this category for applying simplicity to their approach.
“This year’s Chemistry Prize is about not over-complicating things, but rather about working with what is easy and simple. Functional molecules can be built even by taking a simple route,” he said.
Click chemistry was coined by two-time Nobel laureate Sharpless to refer to how the building blocks of molecules fit together. Working independently of each other, his and Meldal’s research on the copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition eventually enabled more efficient development of cancer treatment and DNA mapping.
Bertozzi’s work overcame the limitations of click chemistry by avoiding copper ions that had prevented its use in living cells. She pioneered the application of bioorthogonal chemistry – compatible chemical reactions in living systems.
“Click chemistry and bioorthogonal reactions propelled chemistry into the era of functionalism. This brings the greatest benefit to mankind,” the Nobel statement said.
Physicists Aspect, Clauser and Zeilinger have already won in tandem when they were jointly awarded the Wolf Prize in Physics, in 2010 (while Carolyn R Bertozzi matched her 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with another joint victory in the same category for the Wolf Prize this year).
The Nobel Prize rewards each scientist’s experimental work on entangled quantum states, in which two particles behave as if they were a single unit, even though they are separate. Their work in quantum mechanics has generated potential next-generation telecommunications systems, quantum computers, networks, and secure encrypted communications.
“It has become increasingly clear that a new type of quantum technology is emerging. We can see that the laureates’ work on entangled states is of great importance, even beyond fundamental questions about the interpretation of quantum mechanics,” said Anders Irbäck, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.
An interview with Carolyn Bertozzi can be heard below. Interviews with fellow Nobel laureates in science can be accessed by clicking and scrolling down here.