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2016 Nobel prizes demonstrate the importance of basic research

Congratulations to this year’s Nobel Prize winners for their breakthrough work in basic science!

Japan Times story about this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine awarded to Japanese microbiologist Yoshinori Ohsumi, shows how Ohsumi’s discoveries “led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content” and “opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes.”

University of Washington president Ana Marie Cauce writes that the work of Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Professor Emeritus David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane, and J. Michael Kosterlitz, “is a perfect example of why curiosity-driven basic science is so vital. Not only did [the] discoveries open up entirely new fields of research, but they also have had implications for the electronic devices that power our world today and those that may do so in the future — everything from advanced superconductors to quantum computers to other applications we can hardly imagine.”

Science reports that the Nobel prize for chemistry was awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage of the University of Strasbourg in France, Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University, Evanston, in Illinois, and Bernard Feringa of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.”

Reporter Daniel Clery notes that Olof Ramström of the Nobel Committee compared the laureates with scientists of the early 19th century who made the first electrical machines and started a revolution that we are benefiting from today. “The future will show what sort of machines will come out of this,” he said.

The Financial Times reports that “The stories of all three prizes begin with scientists who have the imagination to explore new or neglected fields; they have some idea that the research might eventually lead to important scientific or technological advances but have no particular applications in mind.”