Cool Discoveries and Inventions That Won the Nobel Prize
Winning the Nobel Prize is a pretty amazing accomplishment. From chemistry to physics to literature, Nobel Laureates are among the best and the brightest people, furthering human knowledge one discovery at a time. But even among the winners of such a distinguished honor, there are those who stand out from the rest. Here are a few of the most amazing discoveries and inventions that have ever won the Nobel Prize.
Cells in Low-Oxygen Environments — 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
2019’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to William Kaelin, Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza for their work in the mechanics of how our bodies alternate between high- and low-oxygen environments.
Holographs — 1971 Nobel Prize in Physics
We might see them everywhere now but holographs certainly haven't always been around. Dennis Gabor earned his 1971 Nobel Prize in Physics when he discovered a method of developing photographs based on interference (light waves interacting with one another) and coherence (light waves lining up with one another).
Radiation — Marie Curie
We've all heard of Marie Curie — as we should have, because her work is extremely important in the foundations of science today. But did you know she's won not just one but two Nobel Prizes? Her first prize was awarded for physics (alongside Henri Becquerel) for discovering two new elements: radium and polonium.
Ion Traps — 1989 Nobel Prize in Physics
It might sound a bit like a Ghostbusters weapon, but the ion trap is a very real scientific tool that has helped scientists make a series of advancements in their fields. We can thank Wolfgang Paul for this discovery, and we can safely say that his 1989 Nobel Prize was well-earned.
Background Radiation — 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics
Most of us probably didn't know this, but there’s cosmic radiation falling to Earth from outer space pretty much all the time. Nowadays, scientists say that it's essentially leftover radiation from when the Big Bang happened, creating the universe.
The Expansion of the Universe — 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics
It’s fairly common knowledge now to say that our universe is expanding at a constantly accelerating rate. But this wasn't always so well-known; in fact, it was only discovered in 1998, by Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess.
Photon Trap — 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics
We’re able to study many aspects of our universe, but one thing that — until recently — we could not, is the quantum world. It’s so small and behaves so differently than the rest of our universe that for a long time we were only able to study it theoretically.
Photoelectric Effect — 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics
No list of Nobel Prize winners would be complete without Albert Einstein. One of the most recognizable figures in science, Einstein was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. He wasn’t awarded for his theories of general or special relativity, however, but for proving the photoelectric effect.
Gravitational Waves Emitting From Pulsar Star — 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics
On the back of Einstein's theory of general relativity, James Taylor and Russell Hulse turned to the heavens and discovered a new type of pulsar star. This won them the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Carbon Dating — 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Believe it or not, when people found dinosaur bones in previous decades, they weren't able to precisely determine how old the bones were — they just had to guess. Until 1949, that is, when Willard Libby developed the carbon dating method.
Systematic Drug Production — 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Going to the store to pick up medication seems like the easiest thing in the world. Luckily for us, we have a large variety of treatments for our medical ailments. That wasn't always the case, however; in fact, the transition to having accessible drug treatments was pretty recent.
X-rays — 1901 Nobel Prize in Physics
X-ray vision might be a mythic power granted to Superman and other such fictional characters, but the origins behind this idea are rooted in much more scientific grounds.
Blood Types — 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
We might think that knowing our blood types is pretty common knowledge, and it is — at least today. But that wasn't always the case. In fact, it wasn't until 1901 that people realized there were different types of blood.
Atomic Laser Traps — 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics
Studying atoms is critical for our ability to understand our world and the building blocks that make it. At room temperature, though, atoms move far too quickly for observation. In order to study them, scientists need to slow them down to a more reasonable speed.
Particles Moving Faster Than the Speed of Light — 1958 Nobel Prize in Physics
Many of us assume that the speed of light is about as fast as things can go. But actually, some things can move faster than light because the speed of light can change. In certain media, light slows down, so other particles can move faster than light.
Telescopes for Cosmic X-rays — 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics
When we look up at the stars and galaxies of the night sky, we see the light that they’re emitting. What we don't see are the X-rays that they're also emitting. In the 1960s, a scientist named Riccardo Giacconi made significant contributions to the development of telescopes that would allow us to study those X-rays.
Partition Chromatography — 1952 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
If you see a brown stain on your shirt, you can look down and say "Ah, that's coffee." But what if the liquid you spilled was a combination of multiple substances? It would be tricky to nail down exactly what was in it. At least, it was tricky up until 1949.
The Double Helix — 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Francis Crick and James Watson were awarded Nobel Prizes for revealing the structure of our DNA: a double helix. Our DNA is made up of four types of bases, which allow it to function as a code for our bodies and to copy itself. History did not let them go without a scandal, however.
Photon Energy Transfer — 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics
Energy is transferred if two things bump into each other. You don't need a fancy lab to test this theory; just go challenge your friend to a round of bumper cars. But sometimes, when the two things go their separate ways once more, their individual properties have changed.
The AIDS Virus — 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
HIV and AIDS weren't identified until 1983 when Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montaigner discovered in patients a retrovirus that attacked lymphocytes (a blood cell that's very important for the human immune system). Retroviruses are viruses composed of RNA, a "cell messenger" carrying genetic information. They contain genes that can work their way into their hosts’ DNA.
DNA Repair — 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Did you know our DNA isn't 100% stable and it can get damaged? Three scientists (Thomas Lindahl, Aziz Sancar and Paul Modrich) researching DNA through the study of bacteria provided some valuable insight into this particular field.
Cellular Growth Factors — 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
When humans are formed, we develop from a single cell. That cell divides to form new cells, and those cells divide to form new cells and so on until all of our different cells with all of their different functions are formed. Rita Levi-Montalcini, alongside Stanley Cohen, contributed massively to our knowledge of this process.
Conductive Polymers — 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Normal plastic material is made of polymers (large molecules that are formed of long chains of smaller molecules). On their own, polymers don’t conduct electricity. In the 1970s, however, Hideki Shirakawa, Alan Heeger and Alan MacDiarmid were able to create conductive polymers for use in electronics.
Atmospheric Layers — 1947 Nobel Prize in Physics
In the early 20th century, when radio waves were sent across the Atlantic, it became evident that they followed the curve of the Earth. Physicists at the time assumed that there must be a layer of Earth's atmosphere that was reflective, where the sun's UV light had liberated electrons from the atoms in the radio waves.
Scanning Tunneling Microscope — 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics
Traditional microscopes are usually limited in the sizes of the objects that they can observe by the wavelength of light. Heinrich Röhrer and Gerd Binnig, in 1981, developed a new microscope that could transcend this limit. It changed the way scientists could gather data.
Tracking Radiation — 1943 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Up until 1923, it was fairly difficult for scientists to track elements through various processes and states of being (which is an important part of understanding how they work). George de Hevesy was trying to do just that when he realized that he was unable to separate an isotope of radium from lead.
Electrocardiograms — 1924 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Doctors' ability to read a chart with heartbeats displayed in plain form was a medical miracle when it was first introduced (and still is, when we're waiting to hear the results). Modern medicine and all of its patients can thank Willem Einthoven for this particular discovery.
The Cloud Chamber — 1948 Nobel Prize in Physics
With a name like something out of a fantasy novel, this invention by Patrick Blackett paved the way for a whole host of discoveries. The Cloud Chamber is a specialized chamber full of supersaturated air that allows tiny, electrically charged particles to leave a trail behind them when they pass through it.
Giant Magnetoresistance — 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics
As unlikely as it may seem, sometimes scientists arrive at the same conclusion independently of one another — perhaps even in a fairly close timeframe. This happened for Peter Grünberg and Albert Fert in 1988 when both discovered the phenomenon of giant magnetoresistance (GMR).
Solar Lighthouse — 1912 Nobel Prize in Physics
In the early 1900s, sailors still relied on lighthouses to safely navigate their ships into harbors. Lighthouses used beacons of light composed of acetylene gas. However, this gas produced low light and smoke.