News / Europe

    3 US Scientists Win Nobel Chemistry Prize

    Laureates Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel as winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Oct. 9, 2013.
    Laureates Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel as winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Oct. 9, 2013.
    This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to three scientists who developed computer programs that have become as important to chemists as test tubes.

    These programs accurately simulate how large, complex molecules behave. The work is central to drug discovery, materials science and much more.  

    Chemistry is all about the interactions of atoms. But these building blocks of all matter are far too small to see, even with the most powerful microscope.

    So, over time, chemists have come up with two different ways of visualizing atoms and the molecules they form. And they have written computer programs to simulate each approach.

    2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    • Martin Karplus of the Universite de Strasbourg and Harvard University
    • Michael Levitt of Stanford University School of Medicine
    • Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles
    • Awarded for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems
    • Winners laid the foundation for powerful computer programs used to understand and predict chemical processes
    Competing models

    Simpler, classical models “treat the bonds between atoms as springs,” said Middle Tennessee State University chemistry professor Preston MacDougall. "Some springs are stiff, some springs are floppy. Some things twist easily, some things are harder to twist.”

    Those models are fine for looking at how the shapes of molecules change in different conditions, for example, when they are hot or cold.

    But they don’t tell you much about what happens when bonds between atoms break and reform, as happens in the enzymes that do the work in our bodies.

    For that, you need much more accurate and complicated models that use quantum physics.

    Computer power

    But using quantum models for all the bonds in a big molecule like an enzyme would take an enormous amount of computer power.

    “In modeling, as in many aspects of life, there’s a certain ‘you get what you pay for’ aspect,” says University of Minnesota chemist Chris Cramer.

    Beginning in the 1970s, Harvard chemist Martin Karplus, Stanford’s Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel at the University of Southern California developed computer models that successfully combined the two.

    “They figured out a way to have a connection between the two that would let you have really fine-grained focus on an interesting piece of the big system, while not spending as much (computing power) to include the larger system,” Cramer said.

    For example, he said, computer programs today use quantum models to study how a drug will react with the small part of an enzyme that performs chemical reactions. But the programs use simpler classical models to understand how the rest of the enzyme interacts with its surroundings.

    These models have proven extremely valuable across the field of chemistry. For instance, scientists designing solar panels use them.

    “Certain atoms are absorbing light and undergoing transitions which you must use quantum theory to model,” said Preston MacDougall. “But then, you also want to describe the plastic material that it’s embedded in, so that their bending properties are modeled properly, their thermal expansion, their mechanical properties are also modeled correctly.”

    These models are so good that they accurately predict what happens in real life.

    And according to the Nobel Prize committee, “Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube.”

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.