This year, four UK scientists have been honoured with a prestigious Nobel Prize, given to those who had “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”.
The Nobel Prize in Physics this year was divided, with one half awarded to David J. Thouless, an Englishman, and the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane, also from England, and J. Michael Kosterlitz, a Scotsman, “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.
All three scientists carried out work on exotic states of matter whilst affiliated with American research universities. The work they carried out uses abstract mathematics called topology to explore unexpected properties of materials, such as superconductivity, using mathematic models to explain physical phenomena. It is thought that their work will be integral to forming a basis for the research aiming to create quantum computers in the future.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded jointly to three men; Jean-Pierre Sauvage, from France, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, another Scottish recipient, and Dutch scientist Bernard L. Feringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”.
The trio worked on replicating elements of cellular machinery with molecules, making miniscule molecular switches and motors. Their work has significant therapeutic potential, and is being developed with a view to one day using molecular machinery to create medical micro-robots and self-healing materials.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016 was awarded solely to Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan for his “discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy”. His work revolves around the body’s cellular recycling systems, which break down and reuse cellular components.
Dysfunctional recycling has been linked to illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, type 2 Diabetes, cancer, and a host of age-related disorders meaning research based on Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work would focus on developing therapeutic drugs to target the autophagy system in patients with defective recycling systems.
Amidst celebration of the various British Nobel Laureates, arose a discussion about the state of British science. All of the English scientists awarded this year had “defected” to universities in the States during Thatcher’s cuts to science funding in the 1980s. With the status of post-Brexit British science yet to be decided, the question being asked is: Will there be any future British Nobel Laureates based in the UK?