Blue LEDS nobly rewarded

A blue LED (photo by “Hoenny”)

The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2014 goes to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.” Congratulations!

Gallium nitride and indium gallium nitride were the key materials in making blue LEDs, while cerium(III)-doped yttrium aluminium garnet phosphors convert blue LEDs into white ones.


Caenorhabditis elegans: a model organism

Caenorhabditis elegans (photo above by Bob Goldstein, diagram below by “KDS444”) is a transparent nematode worm, about 1 mm in length. It lives naturally in the soil, where it eats bacteria, but it is also quite happy to make its home in a Petri dish. A 1963 suggestion by Sydney Brenner led to C. elegans becoming the focal point of a vast collaborative effort to understand the worm in detail. Brenner shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this work.

The cellular development of C. elegans has been mapped in detail, and its genome had been largely mapped by 1998. The diagram below shows the neural network of the worm, drawn using R, based on data from here (from this paper via this one). In this diagram, colour shows the centrality of neurons in the network. Other information on C. elegans is available at

Because of the effort that has gone into understanding this humble worm as whole, rather than as just parts, a great deal has been learned about biology in general. Brenner was on to a good thing!

The Chemistry Nobel gives hope to all simulation scientists

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has gone to three pioneers of molecular dynamicsMartin Karplus (Harvard/Strasbourg), Michael Levitt (Stanford), and Arieh Warshel (Southern California) – “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”

This is the kind of thing their work made possible:

In particular, multi-level simulation is needed to simulate this kind of behaviour. Quantum theory has the finest resolution, but is computationally intractable. Classical models are more computationally tractable, but inaccurate. The solution is to combine the two approaches, working at two different levels.

Similar challenges occur in other areas, such as in the tension between micro and macro models of economics. For example, agent-based models of individual purchasing decisions can predict changes in prices. However, quite different models predict the behaviour of national economies as a whole. Adequately marrying the two levels is still an unsolved problem, but simulation scientists in all fields of endeavour can take heart from the successes of chemical simulation.

See Scientific American for more on this prize.

The Nobel Higgs

François Englert and Peter Higgs have received the Nobel Prize for the prediction of the now-discovered Higgs boson. The 3D event view below (from the Compact Muon Solenoid team) is an example of the teamwork by many, many people that led to this award. It’s perhaps unfortunate that the Nobel can’t also go to the discovery teams.

Read more at Wired.

Nobels per dollar

I was looking at the list of scientific Nobels on Wikipedia. A good predictor (correlation 0.84) of the number of Nobels for a country is the size of the economy (the GDP). Population size has, surprisingly, a small negative effect.

Some countries do significantly better than predicted by GDP: Luxembourg (2), Hungary (8), Denmark (10), Austria (17), Switzerland (20), and Great Britain (94). What did they do right?

Chocolate and Science

A recent study reported in Nature finds that 10 Nobel prize-winners, out of a sample of 23, “reported eating chocolate more than twice a week, compared with only 25% of 237 well-educated age- and sex-matched controls.” I’d go out and buy a crateload, but…

The Register has more on this chocolatey story.