The 2014 Nobel Prizes for Chemistry and Physiology or Medicine were announced today at a press conference in Sweden. Three people were awarded in Chemistry for improving resolution in optical microscopes, and one man and a married couple were awarded in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain.”
The UMHS Endeavour takes a brief look at this year’s winners, an inspiration to all doctors and students at American and Caribbean medical schools.
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
One half was awarded to John O’Keefe and the other half was jointly awarded to May-Britt Moser and Edvard I Moser.
(Photos, inset right) 2014 Nobel Prize Winners in Physiology or Medicine: John O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser, Edvard Moser. Photos: UCL-Geir-Mogen-NTNU
Following are highlights from Nobel’s official press release
- “How do we know where we are? How can we find the way from one place to another? And how can we store this information in such a way that we can immediately find the way the next time we trace the same path? This year´s Nobel Laureates have discovered a positioning system, an ‘inner GPS’ in the brain that makes it possible to orient ourselves in space, demonstrating a cellular basis for higher cognitive function.”
- “In 1971, John O´Keefe discovered the first component of this positioning system. He found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus that was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. Other nerve cells were activated when the rat was at other places. O´Keefe concluded that these ‘place cells’ formed a map of the room.”
- “More than three decades later, in 2005, May-Britt and Edvard Moser discovered another key component of the brain’s positioning system. They identified another type of nerve cell, which they called ‘grid cells,’that generate a coordinate system and allow for precise positioning and pathfinding. Their subsequent research showed how place and grid cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate."
- “The discoveries of John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries – how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”
The 2014 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry
(Photo, inset far left) 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Eric Betzig. Photo: Matt Staley/HHI
(Photo, inset center) 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Stefan W. Hell. Photo: Bernard Schuler/Matt Planc Institut
(Photo, inset far right) 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: William K .Moerner. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
This year’s prizes were awarded to two Americans and one German (Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner) for work on optical microscopes.
Following are highlights from Nobel’s press release.
- “In what has become known as nanoscopy, scientists visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells. They can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.'
- "It was all but obvious that scientists should ever be able to study living cells in the tiniest molecular detail. In 1873, the microscopist Ernst Abbe stipulated a physical limit for the maximum resolution of traditional optical microscopy: it could never become better than 0.2 micrometers. Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014 for having bypassed this limit. Due to their achievements the optical microscope can now peer into the nanoworld."
- “Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Stefan Hell in 2000. Two laser beams are utilized; one stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow, another cancels out all fluorescence except for that in a nanometer-sized volume. Scanning over the sample, nanometer for nanometer, yields an image with a resolution better than Abbe’s stipulated limit.”
- “Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.”
- “Today, nanoscopy is used worldwide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.”
(Top photo) Image courtesy of The Nobel Foundation. Photo: Lovisa Engblom
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Scott is Director of Digital Content at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.