Here’s who won the 2018 Nobel Prizes in Science and why

2018’s Nobel-winning scientists targeted tumors and built optical tweezers

Love them or hate them, the Nobel Prizes in Science remain some of the highest accolades in the world. Awarded almost annually by the Nobel Foundation and Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the prizes honor individuals who’ve made outstanding contributions to physics, chemistry, and medicine. Some say the Nobel prizes fail modern-day science. Others have called them an absurd way of honoring achievement.

For their part, the Nobel Foundation probably thinks their awards help grease the wheels of progress and keep researchers doing the things they’re doing. One thing is for sure — the prize winners’ achievements are nothing short of extraordinary.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the 2018 Nobel Prizes in Science award winners, along with an explanation about why their work matters. (In case you missed it, here’s our breakdown of last year’s winners.)


Winners: Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou, and Donna Strickland

Why they won: Arthur Ashkin from Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, United States, was awarded the prize “for his groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.”

The second half of the award was granted to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou for their chirped pulse amplifications, “a method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.” Strickland is a researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Mourner is from École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Why it matters: Ashkin’s lasers can be used like “optical tweezers” to manipulate particles as small as atoms, to probe how they function in biological systems. This sounds pretty sci-fi but it’s been widely used in the real world since Ashkin made his breakthrough in 1987. The minuscule tool may be used to unlock the ever-allusive secrets of the quantum world, and aid in the emerging field of quantum biology.

Through their research, Strickland and Mourou cleared the way for scientists to generate the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by humans. By stretching the laser pulses out over time, then amplifying the pulse, and finally compressing the pulse, they were able to pack a ton energy into a small amount of space. Chirped pulse amplifications are now used in millions of corrective eye surgeries each year. The two researchers made their first breakthrough in 1985.

It’s also important to note that Strickland’s win makes her only the third woman to win a Nobel in physics and the first woman in 55 years to be recognized with the prize.


Winners: Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith, and Gregory P. Winter

Why they won: Arnold, from the California Institute of Technology, was awarded the prize “for the directed evolution of enzymes.”

Smith and Winter won “for the phase display of peptides and antibodies.” Smith is from the University of Missouri, Columbia and Winter is from MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Why it matters: The winners each used genetic change and selection—inherent aspects of evolution—to create proteins that chip away at some of the chemical conundrums faced by humanity.

In 1993, Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, a class of proteins that kickstart chemical reactions. Over the next 15 years, she refined her technique, enabling the production of new enzymes that allow for chemical manufacturing techniques that are less harmful to the environment. Today, these enzymes are used to fabricate everything from pharmaceutical drugs that save lives to biofuels that could help save the planet as alternatives to fossil fuels.

Smith made his breakthrough in 1985 with the development of phage display, a method in which a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) is used to create new proteins. Winter later used this method for the directed evolution of antibodies that led to new pharmaceuticals, the first of which was Adalimumab, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel diseases. More recent pharmaceuticals created through phage displays have been used to neutralize toxins and cure metastatic cancer.


Winners: James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo

Why they won: Allison and Honjo share the prize “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”

Why it matters: In his research, Allison investigated a protein found on immune cells, which were known to act as a braking mechanisms for the immune system. The researcher’s breakthrough came when he recognized that, by easing off the brake, immune responses could be accelerated to target tumors. Allison’s innovative approach has since been turned into therapies, including for the treatment of an advanced form of skin cancer.

Honjo, meanwhile, identified another immune-cell protein, which also acts as a brake, but functions differently than the one studied by Allison. Over the following years, Honjo unraveled the role of the protein, while he and other researchers leveraged the findings to develop new and effective treatments for cancer patients.

Emerging Tech

Scientists want to bore holes through clouds using lasers from satellites

Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland have proposed a plan to use ultra-hot and ultra-short laser beams to punch through cloud layers and transmit information from satellites to Earth.

How to take great photos with the iPhone XS, Apple’s finest camera phone yet

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max feature the best cameras yet seen on an Apple smartphone, ready for you to get out and take great photos. Here's our guide to help ensure each shot you take is a winner.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

These gloves will make virtual reality feel even more immersive

Scientists from EPFL and ETH Zurich have come up with a thin and light VR glove which makes it so that a touch of an object in the virtual world equates to the physical touch you would expect in real life.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high tech and under budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…
Emerging Tech

When tech goes wrong: Banksy’s shredder was meant to totally destroy his artwork

Banksy's recent auction stunt was meant to totally destroy one of his most famous pieces of work, but a fault with the shredder has left the buyer with something almost certainly worth far more than the $1 million she bid for it.
Emerging Tech

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones

Drones are beginning to enable everything from search & rescue, to the delivery of medicines to hard-to-reach places. But they are also being used as cheap, and deadly flying bombs. How can we defend ourselves?
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

A Fitbit for your cat shit: Automatic litter box tracks your kitty’s health

It may look like a sci-fi teleportation chamber, but Footloose is a high-tech litter box that promises to be the most cutting-edge way for your kitty to take a dump. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

This 3D-printed house made of earth and rice husks costs less than an iPhone

Italian 3D-printing company WASP has just demonstrated the 3D printing of a hut structure using a combination of 3D-printed concrete and a mud-based material. All for around $1,000.
Emerging Tech

Behind the unsettling sci-fi landscapes of Simon Stalenhag’s ‘Electric State’

The narrative artbook follows the journey of a young traveler, Michelle, and her robot, Skip, as they head west to the Pacific coast through an alternative America torn apart by civil war and the trappings of military-grade virtual reality.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.
Emerging Tech

Get one of the best cheap drones you can buy, and cry less when you crash

Want to get in on all this hot drone action, but don't want to spend half a paycheck to make it happen? There are actually lots of feature-packed budget options. Check out this list of the best drones under $500.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: AI-powered cat toys, wallets, and food containers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!