The 2021 Nobel Prize as a symptom, by Pere Puigdomènech

Have been proclaimed the Nobel Prize winners in Medicine or Physiology, Physics and Chemistry. They have been awarded to researchers who have made a remarkable set of discoveries and demonstrate the vitality and usefulness of the most significant scientific discoveries. It is also interesting that the winners are working in the United States, but that the European participation is maintained. On the other hand, the tendency to reward female researchers and this year it was only men. All this shows us that science is not alien to the trends and contradictions of the world in which we live.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology has been awarded to two researchers, David Julius y Ardem Patapoutian, who have done their work in the United States and currently work in California even though Patapoutian is of Lebanese origin. The work of the two has made it possible to understand how the body has the ability to feel that an object is hot or cold or that there is a pressure that is being established on our skin. These are very interesting mechanisms that in the case of temperature have been discovered using the substance that produces the spicy flavor (hot in English) in the pepper or the fresh sensation of menthol. The sensation of intense heat produces pain and these results are being used to find new pain relieving substances.

The Nobel Prizes in Physics have been awarded to researchers who have developed mathematical models to describe complex systems as is the case with climate change. They are essential tools for understanding and predicting the effects of these worrisome changes. Is about Thankyou Manabe, a Japanese researcher working in the United States, the German Klaus Hasselmann and the Italian Giorgio Parisi. The two Europeans work in their respective countries. This is also the case of one of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Benjamin List, who shares with an Englishman, David MacMillan, who works in the United States. In this case, the discovery is that of a method, based on how proteins work in the biological environment, to accelerate organic chemical reactions that are of interest to design drugs.

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Award-winning discoveries demonstrate some current trends in science. They are aimed at understanding how animals feel and how they warn of the danger of high temperature or great pressure, they are aimed at designing highly complex models to analyze climate change or simple methods to facilitate access to new molecules for pharmaceutical use. Of the seven winners, six were born outside the United States, where four of them work, and two are Germans who work in one of the Max-Planck Institutes, system created in Germany to retain and promote the work of its best researchers. It may also come as a surprise that the work of an Italian physicist who has done the work in his country at a time when science is not having a good time is valued. But this would be to ignore the great tradition of science in Italy (don’t go back to Galileo), which cannot completely destroy the policies that the country has suffered for years.

Altogether, discoveries have been awarded that require highly complex research, but they open doors for us to know the world and to seek answers to problems that interest us, such as climate change or drug design. It is significant that countries with a great tradition in European science such as Germany and Italy are on the list, and also, undoubtedly, the United States, where its institutions know how to favor the work of talented people, whether they come from Japan, Lebanon or wherever. There remains the feeling that, as always, the heads of research groups are rewarded, who are numerous by leaving out people, perhaps the youngest, who must have been essential for these jobs. AND perhaps the presence of women is also missing that still do not have the weight and the recognition that they should have. Correcting these deficiencies is a task for the entire system of scientific research throughout the world. The Nobel of 2021 on the one hand show us its limitations, although on the other hand they serve to go celebrating research excellence all over the world.

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