Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry 2009

October 8, 2009

The Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded this year’s Nobel prize for Physics to Charles K. Kao for “groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication” and to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith for “the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit—the CCD sensor.” Physics Today offers a brief, and very readable, account of the breakthroughs that deserved this accolade.

In addition, the Nobel prize for chemistry this year has gone to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz, and Ada E. Yonath “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome” in which, as Physics Today points out, X-ray crystallography played a crucial role. Thus their achievement straddles beautifully across the fields of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

The Nobel Prizes serve a dual purpose: on the one hand, they are an opportunity that the scientific community has to honor and reward those that have made the most important contributions. On the other hand, they represent the chance to send a message to the rest of society. Let us hope that these prizes will remind decision-makers and the public everywhere of, firstly, the crucial role that today’s research plays in creating tomorrow’s technologies and, secondly, that all fields of science are strongly inter-dependent, so it is not profitable to cherry-pick individual areas for support while others are neglected.