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Hank brings us the news about the new Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, what they won for and what it all means.

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Hello, this is Hank Green. This is scishow breaking news. It's Nobel Prize Season! We've got our two first science prize winners announced. First for physiology or medicine, and then physics. Now we're just waiting on chemistry.


But in the meantime it's time for a primer on what exactly these people did. And what it all means

[intro music]

 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine(0:22)

First, the prize for physiology or medicine, and then one's a little weird because we're celebrating two separate discoveries. One made over 50 years ago, and then one made in 2006.

In 1962, John Gurdon blew every biologists' mind by taking a nucleus out of a tadpole cell, and then planting it into an egg cell of a frog. That egg cell was able to develop into an adult frog. 

Now the Nobel committee is kind of glossing over the fact that they're giving the award to the guy who basically invented cloning. They prefer to focus on the fact that he believed, and was able to prove, contrary to the scientific community, that an adult cell nucleus has all the genetic information necessary to make an entire organism.

When an animal's first created, you have a bunch of what are called stem cells, or pluripotent cells, capable of becoming a brain cell or a skin cell or a lung cell or any other kind of cell in the body. 

Until 1962, that was known to be a one-way process, but Gurdon blew all that up, and it took 50 years for us to put the pieces back together. It's all much more complicated than it seemed.

But it wasn't until 2006 that Shinya Yamanaka was able to reprogram an adult cell into a stem cell by introducing a small set of proteins that bind to the DNA in a cell called transcription factors.

These proteins basically tell the cell what kind of cell it should be. The result was a conversion of an adult cell into a cell that very closely resembles the earliest embryonic stem cells, and thus is capable of differentiating into any sort of cell in the body.

So, for proving that adult cells can become stem cells, and then actually doing it, Gurdon and Yamanaka share this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

The potential applications for this knowledge, as you might imagine, are many.

 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine(2:00)

Now, onto physics, the prize was awarded to two scientists who have worked to capture and manipulate individual particles at a quantum level, which is just.....whaaaat?

David Wineland, an American scientist, got his piece of the award for the work he's done not only trapping individual ions, but observing and manipulating them while the ions remain in their quantum mechanical state.

See, when ya start messing around with quantum mechanical systems, they generally collapse into classical systems. The process by which a quantum system turns into a classical system is called decoherence.

And yes, it is weird that particles become different based on how we observe them, but quantum mechanics is weird.

Wineland was able to capture and observe and manipulate these individual ions in their quantum state, and observe decoherence as it occurred.

This allows us not only to study the nature of quantum systems, but also potentially to build things based on quantum mechanics, like quantum computers, which are only theoretical at this point but could revolutionize computing completely.

Serge Haroche also was trapping particles, but his work was potentially even more complicated - trapping photons. And he did it basically with two mirrors that face each other, allowing the photon to bounce back and forth.

Though it be clear, these are very cool mirrors. They're superconducting, and they exist near absolute zero when they are literally shinier than any other object ever created ever.

These trapped photons were then manipulated by Haroche, who was able to observe them in their dual quantum state, as well as observe their collapse into a classical state.

In 1952, Erwin Schrödinger said we never experiment with just one electron or atom. In thought experiments, we sometimes assume that we do. This, invariably, entails ridiculous consequences. 

But now, we do experiment with single atoms and ions and photons, at least, and the consequences aren't ridiculous. They're mind-blowing, and I wish Schrödinger were alive today to see it.


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