THE NOBEL prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace laureates were unveiled last month. Awarding ceremonies will be held during Nobel Week in December in Oslo for the Peace Prize and Stockholm for the rest.
First awarded in 1901, the prize is named after Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the aforementioned fields.
Meet the lineup
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to François Englert and Peter Higgs. Their work explained how a particle known as the Higgs boson confers mass on other particles, shedding light on the creation of matter.
The Nobel in Chemistry was given to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for their work in allowing computer systems to discern protein structures to understand their behavior. Dr. Erwin Enriquez of the Department of Chemistry cites the relevance of their work, saying, “[The techniques developed] have provided researchers a tool to model and understand complex phenomena in biological systems. With clearer understanding comes better prediction and improved design of future drugs or treatment of diseases.”
Also split among three winners is the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof for their research on the “machinery” regulating the cell transport system, where vesicles carry molecules produced by cells to other parts of the body. The discovery is fundamental to disease research.
Alice Munro, the first Canadian Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, was dubbed the “master of the contemporary short story” by the Swedish Academy. Having published 14 collections since 1950, she is known for using unconventional time settings in her stories. Writers and journalists have lauded the win as recognition of an often-overlooked genre.
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was split among Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited their separate work as having “laid the foundation for the current understanding of asset prices.”
The contributions of these three, according to Dr. Luis Dumlao, chair of the Department of Economics, are all associated with finance. Fama is considered the father of the efficient-markets theory, in which share prices always include or reflect relevant data. Hansen is known for his work on a statistical method for testing theories on asset prices. Shiller is the co-creator of the Case-Shiller Index of US house prices and a proponent of incorporating psychology into economics.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee shocked many when it awarded the Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Backed by the United Nations (UN), the intergovernmental organization is responsible for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which aims to eliminate verified chemical arms. The OPCW was recently thrust into international relevance with the confirmed stockpiling and use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.
“The OPCW is a highly successful international organization… With a record of having eliminated over 80% of the world’s weapons stockpiles, it has been credited as an example of an effective multilateral organization,” said Harvey Chua, president of the Ateneo Assembly.
The announcement was met with mixed reactions. Many pointed out its prematurity, given that the OPCW is only in the early stages of its Syria mission. Others, including previous Peace Prize winners US President Barack Obama and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, have praised the choice for its emphasis on disarmament.
Many were expecting equality icon Pakistani Malala Yousafzai to win the prize. Known for being vocal about girls’ right to education, the teenager was shot last year by the Taliban, the Islamist group that banned girls from entering their school in Yousafzai’s native Swat Valley.
Another frontrunner was Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who founded Panzi Hospital in war-torn Congo, dubbed the “rape capital of the world” by the UN. Through his efforts, 30,000 victims of rape have been aided.
“[Although] Malala herself is as incredible a hero the world can ask for, perhaps we need to understand that the people of OPCW also put their lives on the line, and that they have done so consistently, effectively, cooperatively as an organization,” Chua suggests.
Disputes and controversies
But the Nobel Peace Prize is no stranger to critics. This year’s nomination of Russian President Vladimir Putin also struck some nerves. While supporters cited his efforts to settle the conflict between the US and Syria peacefully, critics accused him of having provided weapons to Syria and blocking intervention.
Other past choices have garnered criticism as well. Obama, who won the title in 2009, has been denounced for the use of unmanned drones. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also won the prize in 1994 despite allegedly participating in terrorist acts. Moreover, the awarding of the 1973 prize to North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for brokering a ceasefire deal during the Vietnam War has been seen as the most controversial, as Kissinger was accused of war crimes.
Chua believes that in order to stay relevant, the Nobel Prize committee must evaluate the value judgments involved. “How do we reconcile and celebrate both kinds of efforts?” he said. “We might as well start a conversation as a society while we’re at it: How do we define, envision and work towards peace today?”