4 North Americans Win Nobel Prizes for Science

BROWNE, MALCOLM W.. "4 North Americans Win
Nobel Prizes for Science :[Biography]. " New York
Times
  [New York, N.Y.] 14 
Oct. 1993, Late Edition (East Coast): 
A.6. New York
Times
.

This simple and cheap way to "amplify" DNA has revolutionized
biology in recent years, allowing scientists to study molecules and
molecular chemistry that would otherwise be inaccessible to
ordinary laboratory tools. For example, many scientists in recent
years have used the P.C.R. method to get useful amounts of DNA from
single molecules of DNA surviving in plant and animal fossils.

A "fantastic application" of the P.C.R. technique, the Nobel
committee noted in its announcement yesterday, suggests a
possibility that "has already inspired authors of science fiction"
and "the very popular film ‘Jurassic Park,’ which is about the fear
that arises when researchers using P.C.R. recreate giant extinct
reptiles."

Many scientists believe that science is embattled by lack of
public support and financing. "In these lean times," Dr. [Russell
A. Hulse] said, "our scientific and technical efforts are being
restructured, and we risk destroying a valuable scientific
enterprise."

Copyright New York Times Company Oct 14,
1993

For their landmark contributions to the science of genetics, an
American and a Canadian yesterday shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in
Chemistry. Also yesterday, two Americans shared the Nobel physics
prize for their investigation of gigantic gravitational forces
exerted by ultradense stars.

The chemistry prize was bestowed jointly upon Dr. Kary B.
Mullis, the inventor of a technique for making many copies of a
single gene fragment, and Dr. Michael Smith, for a method used to
splice foreign components into genetic molecules.

Dr. Mullis, 48 years old, worked for the Cetus Corporation of
Emeryville, Calif., at the time he did his prize-winning work in
the 1970’s, and now lives in La Jolla, Calif. Dr. Smith, 61, and
British by birth, is a professor of biochemistry at the University
of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Physics Prize Shared

The physics prize was shared by Dr. Joseph H. Taylor, 52, who
was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, at the
time of his discovery, and his graduate student at the time,
Russell A. Hulse, 42. Dr. Taylor is now a professor of physics at
Princeton University, and Dr. Hulse conducts research in hydrogen
fusion at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

The physics and chemistry prizes, each worth $825,000, are to be
shared by their winners, who also each get a large solid gold
medal.

The invention for which Dr. Mullis was recognized yesterday,
called the polymerase chain reaction (P.C.R.), has spawned a branch
of biotechnology that allows scientists to rapidly make trillions
of copies of vanishingly small amounts of DNA, including the DNA in
fingerprints left at crime scenes. Revolutionized Biology

This simple and cheap way to "amplify" DNA has revolutionized
biology in recent years, allowing scientists to study molecules and
molecular chemistry that would otherwise be inaccessible to
ordinary laboratory tools. For example, many scientists in recent
years have used the P.C.R. method to get useful amounts of DNA from
single molecules of DNA surviving in plant and animal fossils.

A "fantastic application" of the P.C.R. technique, the Nobel
committee noted in its announcement yesterday, suggests a
possibility that "has already inspired authors of science fiction"
and "the very popular film ‘Jurassic Park,’ which is about the fear
that arises when researchers using P.C.R. recreate giant extinct
reptiles."

Dr. Smith’s prize-winning invention is a technique for altering
the coding of genetic molecules so that they will direct the
production of custom-made proteins by living organisms. The
technique, called oligonucleotide-based site-directed mutagenesis,
pinpoints specific spots in gene molecules and substitutes
different molecular coding units for the ones naturally present.
Hopes for Cancer Are Seen

Scientists hope this will lead to therapies for a host of
diseases, including cancer. The technology also has been applied to
agriculture, in the development of plants resistant to disease and
having other desirable characteristics.

For the work in 1974 that led to their shared physics prize, Dr.
Taylor and Dr. Hulse used the 300-meter-diameter radio telescope at
Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where they discovered the first known binary
pulsar — a double star, one component of which emits rapid pulses
of radio energy. The discovery was important to astrophysics, but
it had an especially powerful impact on a more general field of
physics: the study of gravity.

Pulsars are extremely dense stars made mostly of neutrons rather
than whole atoms; their gravitation is so immense that a human
being standing on the surface of one of these stars would weigh
several hundred billion times his weight on earth, and he would be
crushed to a thin film. Pulsars are only about six miles wide, but
are as massive as the sun.

The binary pulsar discovered by Dr. Taylor and Dr. Hulse
exhibited the extreme warping of space and time that is predicted
to occur near such dense objects, and this lent strong support to
several of the predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of
Relativity. Observations by the two scientists furnished indirect
but persuasive proof of the existence of gravity waves, which have
long been postulated but never directly observed. A Second for
Pulsars

Yesterday’s physics prize marked the second time the Nobel
committee has recognized research involving pulsars. Since there is
no Nobel prize for astronomy, astronomical discoveries are
sometimes awarded the physics prize.

The first pulsar was discovered by Jocelyn Bell in 1967, using
the radio antenna of Cambridge University in England. Miss Bell was
24 at the time and is now Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell of Britain’s
Open University.

For the discovery of pulsars, Dr. Antony Hewish, Miss Bell’s
doctoral thesis adviser and supervisor at Cambridge, was awarded a
Nobel prize in physics in 1974. Miss Bell did not share in the
award.

But yesterday, both master and student were recognized by the
Nobel committee.

Dr. Hulse said in an interview: "I deeply appreciate this award,
although the lion’s share of the work was done by my thesis
adviser, Dr. Taylor. He has continued to work in the field, while
for the last 16 years I have been working on fusion research at the
Plasma Physics Laboratory."

It took two weeks after their 1974 discovery of Pulsar PSR
1913+16, Dr. Hulse recalls, before he and Dr. Taylor realized they
were looking at a binary system — two stars rotating around a
mutual axis. Calculations showed that irregularities in the
pulsar’s pulses could only be accounted for in terms of the
relativistic effects of an unseen companion star. Once again, the
General Theory of Relativity had been confirmed. Gravity-Wave
Theory

But a still more gratifying result came four years later, in
1978, when Dr. Taylor and his colleagues succeeded in measuring a
small but important increase in the star’s pulse rate, which is
about six one-hundredths of a second between each pulse. They found
that the interval between pulses (and hence, the rotation rate of
the star) was becoming shorter (or "spinning down") at the rate of
about 75 millionths of a second a year — in other words, the
pulsar and its unseen companion were rotating around each other
faster, and moving closer together.

This is exactly what scientists had predicted if gravity waves
exist: gravity waves are expected to carry away energy from the
binary rotation of super-dense stars, robbing orbital energy from
such systems, and letting pairs of stars fall closer.

Continued study of binary pulsars as they spin off energy over
the years is essential, Dr. Taylor said in an interview.

"We’ve measured three of the relativity effects on this pulsar
to high accuracy, and two other consequences to somewhat lower
accuracy. But there are potentially about a dozen other relativity
effects we hope to measure in the future."

Many scientists believe that science is embattled by lack of
public support and financing. "In these lean times," Dr. Hulse
said, "our scientific and technical efforts are being restructured,
and we risk destroying a valuable scientific enterprise."

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.