Nobel Prize Winners / The Public Library of Science

I'm Sarah Long with Bob Doughty, and This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, from VOA Special English. This week -- reports on the winners of the two-thousand-three Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics and medicine.

And, later in the program, the Public Library of Science puts its first research publication out on the Internet -- and it is free of charge.

The Nobel prizes are presented each year on December tenth. The Peace Prize is given in Oslo, Norway. The others are given in Stockholm, Sweden.

December tenth is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel in eighteen-ninety-six. The Swedish engineer held legal rights to more than three-hundred inventions. One is dynamite, an explosive.

Alfred Nobel left nine-million dollars in his will to establish yearly prizes in his name. He said they should go to living people who have worked most effectively to improve human life.

The first awards were given in nineteen-oh-one. Each prize includes a gold medal and ten-thousand Swedish kronas. Today that equals more than one-million dollars. The money is shared if more than one person wins a prize.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences chose two winners this year for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon are American. Professor Agre is with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Professor MacKinnon is at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

The award honors their studies of cell walls in living things. The two scientists described how water and charged atoms flow into and out of cells through passages called pores.

Professor MacKinnon discovered the shape of one of these pores. Professor Agre discovered the first pore known to transport water molecules.

Pores help cells operate normally. The flow of charged atoms creates electrical bursts. Cells use these to communicate with each other. This process controls physical activities of the body such as making the heart beat and the arms move.

When pores in cells do not operate correctly, serious conditions can happen. These include irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and the disease cystic fibrosis.

One member of the Nobel committee said the major effect of Agre and MacKinnon's work has been on understanding disease. Another said the discoveries are important to understanding life processes, not just among humans but also bacteria and plants.

This year the Nobel Prize in Physics honors three people for work they did many years ago. Two of the winners are Alexei Abrikosov of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and Vitaly Ginzburg of the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. In the early nineteen-fifties, they developed theories that explained an area of superconductivity.

Superconductors are materials that permit electricity to flow without resistance. Resistance weakens the flow and produces heat. To work, superconductors must be cooled to extremely low temperatures.

Superconductors help in areas of technology and research where electricity is used to create strong magnetic fields. Mr. Ginzburg and another Russian scientist showed that some materials could superconduct in the presence of stronger magnetic fields than had been thought. Later, Mr. Abrikosov showed how magnetic fields affect the process.

The other Russian scientist, Lev Landau, won a Nobel Prize in nineteen-sixty-two for other work. He died six years later.

The third scientist to win the Nobel Prize for Physics this year is Anthony Leggett of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The award recognizes his work with superfluids. A superfluid is like a superconductor. It is a liquid that flows freely at very low temperatures. A superfluid can even move upward off a surface. In the nineteen-seventies Mr. Leggett used ideas about superconductivity to explain the movement of atoms in liquid helium.

The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences says the three winners this year helped to change the science of physics. They recognized the importance of the interactions between atoms and electrons. They explained how the movement of these particles together can be more important than the movement of individual particles.

Scientists say this discovery led to major changes in thinking by leading physicists. One influence of this work was the development of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI technology.

Two men involved in the development of MRI technology are the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. They are Paul Lauterbur of the University of Illinois College of Medicine and Sir Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham in Britain. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden awards the prize.

Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field to record pictures. This technology has changed the practice of medicine. It permits doctors to look inside patients without the use of X-rays or an operation. They can look at all sides of organs and capture events like the beating of a heart.

Scientists have also developed brain examinations by MRI. Doctor can observe changes in blood flow to study mental activity.

In two-thousand-two, nearly sixty-million MRIs were done around the world.

Scientists say many other people took part in the development of the MRI besides Mr. Lauterbur and Mr. Mansfield. In fact, one of these researchers is protesting the choices for the Nobel Prize in Medicine this year.

Raymond Damadian owns an MRI manufacturing company near New York City. He has paid for announcements in newspapers to say he should have shared in the prize because of the research he did.

His experiments started in nineteen-sixty-nine. He discovered that cancerous and normal tissue could be recognized using a technology then known as nuclear magnetic resonance.

Scientists say that Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield later developed improved methods to capture pictures of tissue. Their pictures were clearer and easier to use. But Mr. Damadian says their work came from his ideas. The Nobel committee and others say that the two winners made their own independent discoveries.

It will not be easy to find out how the committee chose the winners. Rules for the Nobel prizes state that the documents used to nominate and choose winners are to be held in secret for fifty years.

Before scientists can earn a Nobel Prize, or any recognition, first they must get their work published. There are major publications like Science and Nature, but also many others. Some scientific publications cost a lot to receive in paper form. But most publishers also charge to read reports over the Internet. The reports often include findings of research paid for with public money.

Some scientists think it is wrong to charge for scientific knowledge. Three years ago, a number of medical researchers organized the Public Library of Science. They urged scientific publishers to release reports on the Internet without charge. They were not satisfied with the steps taken. So the library decided to publish research on its own. The organizers say they hope to show that free sharing of scientific knowledge will speed the progress of science and medicine.

Next year the Public Library of Science, or P-L-O-S, will launch a publication called P-L-O-S Medicine. Earlier this month the library released its first publication, P-L-O-S Biology. It came out in print and online. The writers of the reports pay the costs of editing and publishing. As with many publications, other scientists read the articles to judge if the work should be published.

One of the reports in P-L-O-S Biology made a lot of news. The report tells about experiments in which scientists connected devices to the brains of monkeys. These devices permitted the monkeys to control a mechanical arm with their thoughts. Listen next week for more details. And Internet users can visit the new library at publiclibraryofscience -- all one word -- dot o-r-g.

SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - October 21, 2003: Nobel Prize Winners / The Public Library of Science
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