How to make gold? Take two medium-sized neutron stars, mix, and stir gently

  1. The Nobel prizes of 2017 reveal how to make gold, time-stop living molecules, avoid diabetes, connect to reality, disarm nukes and help people make rational choices

How to make gold? Take two medium sized neutron stars, mix, and stir gently.

Illustration of gravitational waves
Gravitational waves detected confirm one of Einstein’s predictions.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 was shared by Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”

Gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of the universe, were first detected on 14 September 2015, almost exactly 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted them on the basis of his theory of general relativity. Gravitational waves can be used to observe astronomical events not observable by other means.

LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) works by splitting a laser beam in two orthogonal directions a long distance and reflect it back to the point of origin. Normally, the two beams, travelling at the same speed would be identical when returning, cancelling each other out. A gravitational wave changes the distance, and when either of the two distances are distorted, the precision of LIGO can detect the differences down to 5×10‾²² meters, or 1,000,000,000,000 times smaller than the radius of an atom.

On 17 August 2017 three different gravitational-wave detectors spotted waves unlike any seen before. They triangulated the signals and 70 observatories, making many observations simultaneously made it possible to see the event in different ways. In one go, it explained the origins of a certain kind of gamma ray bursts,  revealed a hypothesized object called a kilonova  and settled the question of the origin of half the elements heavier than iron, including silver, gold, and platinum.

How to make gold? Take two medium sized neutron stars, mix, and stir gently.


Cryo-electron microscopy resolution

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017  was shared by Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson “for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.”  Since 2013, researchers have been routinely producing three-dimensional structures of biomolecules, thanks to this to this new method, helping researchers understand the form and function of biomolecules. Before this technique, electron microscopy was largely reserved for non-biological substances.

The high resolution is needed to see and understand chemical bonds in living material. Living material, as opposed to dead material, changes and moves constantly. The technique involves spraying a liquid and cooling it fast so that the living material is frozen in mid-movement, thereby giving electron microscopy time enough to get a better image.

Committee chair Sara Snogerup Linse explained: “Soon, there are no more secrets, now, we can see the intricate details of the biomolecules in every corner of our cells and every drop of our body fluids.

Circadian rythm


The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017 was presented by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute to be shared by Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. ” The Nobel committee said “circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and wellbeing.”

Body clock disruption affects daily memory formation.  In the long term it increases the risk of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Our risk of a heart attack soars every morning, as any nurse working in intensive care can tell you.

“If we screw that system up we have a big impact on our metabolism,” said Prof Russell Foster, a body clock scientist at the University of Oxford. He added: “They have shown us how molecular clocks are built across all the animal kingdom.”

Kazuo IshiguroThe Nobel Prize in Literature 2017

On October 4th 2017  the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius announced that the prize had been awarded to the  English author Kazuo Ishiguro for his authorship which had been : “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.
Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to England in 1960 and became a British citizen in 1982. If there is a theme in Ishiguro’s writings, it is that he writes about our memories and how time tricks us into distorting them, and misinterpret them. He commands the various levels of narrative, and so each book differs from each others. His most famous book , “The Remains of the Day” narrates a butlers life of unerring loyalty differs, for example , from “Never let me go”, which is Science Fiction.

The Swedish Academy’s choice choice of Ishiguro  was received with surprise since Ishiguro was not on the shortlist of expected prize winners and with joy since Ishiguro is a good author who Sara Danius described as a mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka: “But you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix, and then you stir.”


ICAN logo

The Nobel Peace Prize 2017  was awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Norwegian Nobel committee chair, said it was due to the group’s “groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty prohibition” on nuclear weapon and  “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

In July of 2017, after pressure from Ican, 122 nations backed a UN treaty designed to ban and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons.  Ms Reiss-Andersen called on nuclear-armed states to initiate negotiations to gradually eliminate the weapons.

“The laws of war say that we can’t target civilians. Nuclear weapons are meant to target civilians; they’re meant to wipe out entire cities,” she said, adding: “That’s unacceptable and nuclear weapons no longer get an excuse.

“It’s a giant radioactive bomb, it just causes chaos and havoc and civilian casualties. It is not a weapon that you can use in line with the laws of war.

“Every state matters here. The more states that sign and ratify this treaty the stronger the norm is going to get. They’re not moving towards disarmament fast enough.”

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2017 went to Richard H. Thaler “for his contributions to behavioral economics.” As the name implies, the prize is a prize awarded in memory of Alfred Nobel by the Swedish equivalent of the Bank of England, and not an original Nobel Prize.

Richard Thaler is one of the founding fathers of behavioural economics and co-author of the book Nudge.

Nudge is about how people make bad or irrational choices.  Thaler here introduces “libertarian paternalism.” The idea is that it is both possible and legitimate for private and public institutions to affect behavior while also respecting freedom of choice. One example of such a policy is by deliberately setting a default choice, for example in organ donations.  Austria, with an opt-out system, has a consent rate of 99%, while Germany, with a very similar culture and economic situation, but an opt-in system, has a consent rate of only 12%.

“I will try to spend [the prize money] as irrationally as possible!” the 72 year-old economist said.

The Nobel Foundation neither selects nor awards the Nobel prizes. Its main task is to manage the assets of Alfred Nobel’s will.


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