Directions for teachers: After your students read “Nobel Prize winners announced,” ask them to answer the following questions. Note that the Nobel Prize in economic sciences isn’t always awarded for a scientific advance, in which case Science News may not report it.
1. What are the Nobel science prizes?
The Nobel science prizes are awards presented every year that recognize scientific discoveries and inventions that benefit humankind or advance our understanding of the world.
2. In what science categories is the Nobel Prize awarded?
The categories of the Nobel science prizes are physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry and economic sciences.
3. For each of these categories, what discovery or advance won the prize? Why is the research important?
The 2019 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine recognized research into how cells sense and respond to oxygen. The research has implications for our understanding of cancer and how to treat it.
The 2019 physics prize recognized two discoveries: theoretical tools to study the universe and the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a sunlike star. The tools helped establish the makeup of the universe: about 5 percent ordinary matter, 27 percent dark matter and 68 percent dark energy. The discovery of the first exoplanet opened a new era in astronomy — there are now over 4,000 confirmed exoplanets.
The development of lithium-ion batteries won the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Lithium-ion batteries have impacted our everyday lives: The lightweight, rechargeable batteries power everything from portable electronics to electric cars.
A scientific approach to reducing the effects of poverty in education, health care and other areas won the 2019 Nobel Prize in economic sciences. The research established methods to tackle big questions such as “How can we fight global poverty?” by breaking them down into smaller, testable questions.
4. Identify one of the prizes that was given for collaborative work. Who were the winners, and how is their research related?
The 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists: John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University in New York and Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan. Yoshino’s work built on Goodenough’s work, which built on Whittingham’s work.
5. What did each winner contribute?
Whittingham tested lithium as an anode material. The element is lightweight and easily releases electrons and lithium ions. His rechargeable battery design also included a cathode made with the chemical compound titanium disulfide, which can store lithium ions released from the anode.
Goodenough improved on Whittingham’s cathode by using the chemical compound cobalt oxide as a cathode. Cobalt oxide stores more lithium ions than titanium disulfide. Goodenough’s design boosted the batteries’ voltage potential from 2 volts to 4 volts.
Yoshino built an anode using petroleum coke, a by-product of oil production. Though it doesn’t include lithium, petroleum coke can store lithium ions. Yoshino paired his petroleum coke anode with Goodenough’s cobalt oxide cathode to make a more durable and lightweight rechargeable battery. Yoshino’s design was used in the first commercial lithium-ion batteries.
6. Identify one prize-winning discovery or advance that spanned scientific fields. What fields were involved and how did they connect to each other?
The 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded for a development spanning the fields of chemistry, materials science and engineering. Batteries store electrical energy in the form of chemical energy and run through oxidation and reduction reactions. Scientists needed an understanding of materials science to find the right chemical compounds for a battery’s anode and cathode. And putting it all together into a consumer product that could be recharged hundreds of times was an engineering feat.
7. Were any of the prizes awarded to more than one specific discovery or advance? Identify the advances and explain how they are related.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for two discoveries — theoretical tools for understanding the cosmos and the discovery of an exoplanet around a sunlike star. Both offer insights into components of the universe that are invisible to the human eye.
8. Did the article report the winner(s) of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences? If so, why do you think the economics prize is considered a science prize in this context? If not, why might the article have left this prize out?
The 2019 Nobel Prize in economic sciences went to three scientists for their work establishing a scientific approach to reducing the harmful effects of poverty. The economics prize is considered a science prize in this case because the research helped create a new, science-based subfield in economics and set standards for testing hypotheses in the subfield. If the economics prize isn’t awarded for a scientific advance, then a scientific publication might choose to not report on it.
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