For most part, Nobel winners right on target

By Freedom New Mexico

Although some of this year’s Nobel Prizes seemed more like politically correct stretches than rewards for genuine achievement, several brought to public attention the achievements of scientists who have contributed significantly to developments we almost take for granted.

Perhaps most noteworthy in this respect was the prize in physics, awarded to Peter Gruenberg of Germany and Albert Fert of France. The two independently discovered, in 1988, a phenomenon called giant magnetoresistance — the fact that tiny changes in magnetic fields involving ultra-thin layers of metal can yield a large electrical output, something physicists at the time did not consider possible.

That may sound exotic — except it has been the key to developing ever-smaller devices with ever-larger stores of information. An iPod that can hold a thousand songs, a cell phone that’s a computer, a camera and more, a laptop that can hold more information than a room full of whirring machines not long ago — none would be possible without this discovery.

This discovery yielded so many practical applications in less than 20 years through a highly competitive marketplace.

Mario Capecchi, co-laureate in medicine, was born in Italy in 1937. He landed on the streets at age 4 when the Nazis arrested his mother and sent her to Dachau, barely surviving with a band of street urchins. After World War II his mother found him and they moved to a Quaker commune near Philadelphia. He had never been in a school and spoke no English.

But somehow he found his way to Harvard and then to the University of Utah, where his curiosity led him to manipulate mouse genes to model disease.

Doris Lessing in literature was a surprise, but largely because if she was going to win it should have been long ago, for her earlier work.

Alfred Nobel wanted to leave a legacy of encouragement for research and socially beneficial discovery. Despite occasional missteps by the committee that bears his name, he has done so.