On the 10th of December, the 2002 Nobel Prize laureates will receive their awards. This year 2 Japanese are among them: Masatoshi Koshiba in Physics and Koichi Tanaka in Chemistry.
Receiving the Nobel Prize is one of the best acknowledgments a scientist can receive for his work. During the next Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, on the 10th of December 2002 two Japanese will receive an award, one in Physics and one in Chemistry.
The Nobel Prize in Physics: "Observing elusive particles from the sun"
In Physics Masatoshi Koshiba, Professor Emeritus at the International Center for Elementary Particle Physics, University of Tokyo, was rewarded for his contribution to neutrino astronomy. With his team, he constructed a very big detector filled with water. This detector was installed in the Kamioka mine in the Gifu Prefecture and was initially aimed at detecting a very rare process: the decay of a proton. Soon, another application was thought up for this big water tank: to detect elusive particles coming from the sun called neutrinos. These particles interact with matter only very rarely and are thus very hard to detect. Neutrinos were detected and Professor Koshiba's team confirmed that the measured flux of neutrinos coming from the sun is lower than expected. Their measurement also confirmed theories explaining that this flux is lower because neutrinos have a slight mass and can change their appearance on their journey from the sun to the earth. For these results, professor Koshiba shares half of the Nobel Prize in Physics with R. Davis (the author of the first measurement of the solar neutrino flux) while the other half goes to R. Giacconi for his work on X-ray astronomy.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry: "Weighting tiny organic molecules"
In Chemistry Koichi Tanaka, Shimadzu Corporation, Kyoto, has developed a method to weight tiny macro-molecules such as proteins. Molecules are too small to be weighted with usual scales, but many small molecules can be evaporated, ionized and then accelerated in an electric field. This is called Mass Spectrometry and has been a widely used technique during the past century. But this is not possible with proteins, as most of them might coagulate while heated (as an example, look at an egg which contains a lot of protein molecules: if you heat it, it will not evaporate but cook!). Koichi Tanaka suggested using a "soft" laser to produce the same effect. The energy of the laser must be tuned to have enough power to free the molecules and ionize them, but not too much power in order to avoid burning the molecules. This technique has contributed to a precise identification of many proteins. For this pioneering work he shares half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with J. Fenn (who suggested another method of Mass Spectrometry for proteins) and the other half of the prize goes to K. Wuthrich whose work allowed the visualization of proteins through Nuclear Magnetic Resonance.
Thanks to the work of this year Nobel laureates we have new tools to view our world, both in the sky and in our cells.
You can get more information about the Nobel prize and its laureates (present and past) at http://www.nobel.se.
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