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Pictured are Nobel symposium presenters (from left) Stephen Barr,
Frederick Bereskin, Kenneth van Golen, Stuart Kaufman, Siobhan Carroll
and Sandeep Patel.
On Nov. 6, six University of Delaware faculty members — each with
particular expertise in one of the prize-winning areas of study —
explained the work and its significance to an audience in UD's new
Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab). The
location, which allowed for informal seating and convenient viewing of
slide presentations on large wall-mounted monitors, was chosen in part
to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature both of the Nobels and of the
teaching and research housed in the building.
The College of Arts and Sciences
sponsors this series of short lectures each fall, shortly after the
Nobel Prizes are announced. Doug Doren, senior associate dean of the
college who organizes the event, said the talks offer the general public
the opportunity to learn about the prize-winning work in more depth
than most news coverage provides.
"Our faculty speakers do research in areas that are closely connected
to the work being recognized, and they bring their personal insights to
the talks," he said.
The following are the lectures in the natural sciences.
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Sandeep Patel, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry,
discussed the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to Martin Karplus,
Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for developing computational models of
complex chemical systems.
Patel began his talk by saying that chemists want to understand and
control the process of molecular transformation, but because atoms and
molecules are so small, researchers must create models — in combination
with laboratory experiments — in order to make predictions.
In the past, these models were made of plastic balls and sticks, he
said, but now supercomputers can be used to make complex virtual models.
In the 1970s, this year's prize-winners made the discoveries that laid
the groundwork for today's computer models.
"What you have now is the ability to do chemistry on a computer," Patel said.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/2H_apGjk3bo?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Kenneth van Golen, associate professor of biological sciences,
described the work done by James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and
Thomas C. Suedhof, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or
Medicine for "their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic,
a major transport system in our cells."
Cells are compartmentalized by their different functions, but
substances need to move back and forth between those compartments, van
Golen said. The phrase "vesicle traffic" refers to that movement, and
all three of the Nobel laureates contributed different aspects of
understanding how cells transport their cargo and then unload it in the
correct place. Nearly all cellular function depends on vesicle traffic,
van Golen said.
Stephen Barr, professor of physics and astronomy,
explained the physics prize, given to Francois Englert and Peter W.
Higgs for the theoretical prediction of "a mechanism that contributes to
our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles …
recently confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental
Barr began by describing the concept that objects exert influence on
others across space, as in the moon's effect on Earth's tides. "Action
at a distance is a strange and spooky idea," he said, adding that space
is not empty but rather is filled with gravitational, electromagnetic
and other types of fields.
Englert and Higgs were working independently in 1964 when each
proposed a theory of how particles acquire mass by interacting with a
particular field, now called the Higgs field. The field they
hypothesized became a key part of the Standard Model of particle
physics, which describes how everything in existence is made up of a
relatively small number of building blocks, or matter particles.
In 2012, researchers at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland confirmed the existence of the Higgs particle.