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Hank profiles this year's Nobel laureates in science, whose achievements have helped us understand questions as small as how our cells transport materials, and as big as why matter exists at all.

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Hank Green: How does your body talk to itself?  How do we know what chemicals will do before they do it?  And why is there stuff?  These are the kinds of questions that have been answered, at least in part, by some of the greatest minds in science, this year's Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology, and today is the day that you learn the answer to these questions, at least in part.  I'm Hank Green, and this is SciShow News.

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Physics: Why Stuff Works (0:27)

We start with maybe the most anticipated Nobel Prize in recent history, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs win the 2013 Nobel Physics prize for their proposals made, independent of one another in 1964, of a theory that explained the existence of matter.  Their theory describes how particles acquire mass, and it was confirmed last year by the discovery of a particle they theorized to exist, known as the Higgs-Boson.  Englert and Higgs posited that this Boson existed as a kind of indicator for a larger Higgs field, which essentially gives mass to any particles that interact with it.  

Their theory, and the particle and field that came with it, have been so fundamental to science that the standard model of physics, which was developed in 1960 to explain how the basic forces of the universe interact, would not make sense without it.  In essence, their theory posits that all particles pass through the Higgs field that permeates the cosmos, but depending on their characteristics, some particles pick up mass, and some don't.  That explains why some particles, like photons of light, are mass-less, while others, like the things that make up you and me and the planet and everything on the other planets and everything that we could ever call a thing does have mass.

Some 3000 scientists at the CERN laboratory worked together to create the super high energy collisions that formed the Higgs-Boson, although very briefly, and they went on to do lots and lots and lots of math to find it among the billions of collisions they created in their giant collider under the French-Swiss border.  It was a truly historic undertaking, and their achievement was just as historic in the end, it was the marriage of theory and experimentation that won the prize.

Chemistry: How Computers Can Predict Reactions (2:03)

This year's chemistry prize also lends itself to that. Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel won this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry for showing that complex chemical reactions can be modeled on computers.

It all started in 1970 when Warshel went to work in Karplus' Harvard chemistry lab. Warshel had been using computer models to try to predict the outcomes of chemical reactions, but the models weren't always very accurate. That's partly because atoms and molecules have quantum properties: variables that affect things like where exactly their electrons are positioned, which in turn affect the final outcome of reaction. So Karplus and Warshel designed a computer model that used the principles of quantum physics to better predict one such reaction, specifically what happens when light hits retinal, a molecule in the eye that makes human vision possible.

Soon after that, Levitt joined the team and devised ways to model even bigger, more complex molecules. The team's research in 1976, which successfully modeled the reactions of enzymes was particularly groundbreaking, showing that computers could accurately predict even complicated reactions between large molecules. These models almost 40 years later, are still in use in the study of things like pharmaceuticals to predict how chemical reactions will occur in the human body.

Medicine: How our Bodies Talk to Themselves (3:09)
Finally, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Südhof won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their work in understanding vesicles, the tiny membrane-enclosed sacs that transport materials within all of our cells. Vesicles are how we get rid of waste, how hormones tell our organs what to do, and how chemicals like neurotransmitters travel around our bodies to keep us thinking and feeling and responding to our environments. Scientists have known about vesicles for a long time, but until the work of this team, we didn't really understand how they worked.

In the 1970's, Schekman pioneered their study by researching yeast cells, identifying cells that had defected vesicles and discovering the mutated genes that caused them.

In the 80s, Rothman looked at mammal cells to figure out how vesicles use specific proteins to bind only to the membranes of the cells they're targeting.

And in the 90's Südhof studied the mechanisms that control when vesicles release their cargo. He looked at nerve cells in particular which use vesicles to accept and send out neurotransmitter chemicals to communicate with one another. Südhof found that the timing of these little sac's activity was controlled by calcium ions, allowing them to send and receive signals exactly when they needed to.

The team's research has not only taught us one of the most important tricks of cellular life, they've also given us insights into diseases that result from defective vesicles like diabetes and neurological conditions.

Outro (4:26)

So thank you to this year's Nobel laureates for helping us understand pretty much everything from how our bodies work to why stuff exists.

And thank you to you viewers and Subbable subscribers. This is a Subbable perk, it's currently sold out, but if you got one it's on the way. See it says SciShow and it says Hank. It's my own, it's my own lab coat.

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