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Press Release 13-178
2013 Nobel laureates include eight NSF-supported scientists

NSF congratulates winners in economics, chemistry and medicine

Nobel Prize

Nobel laureates will be recognized in Sweden on Dec. 10.
Credit and Larger Version

October 23, 2013

The 13 Nobel Prize winners announced earlier this month include eight scientists whose work has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a testament to the long-term value of basic research and the pivotal role NSF plays in fostering science discovery.

With the 2013 Nobel Prizes, NSF has now supported 212 Nobel Laureates since the Foundation was established in 1950.

"NSF is honored to have once again helped support Nobel Prize winners," said NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett. "I want to congratulate these innovative scientists for their contributions to society. These eight laureates are a testament to NSF's commitment to identify and support visionary researchers long before the arrival of international accolades."

Chemistry: Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel

Karplus, Levitt and Warshel were jointly awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry "for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems."

The trio's research paved the way for sophisticated programs that can predict and understand chemical processes: Lightning-quick reactions so speedy and numerous it is nearly impossible to chart them all with experiments.

The methodology created by the laureates is also groundbreaking for its blending of classical and quantum physics. Previously, scientists had to choose to use either classical physics--good for modeling large molecules but not simulating reactions--or quantum physics, good for modeling small molecules only, because the calculations require vast computing power. The hybrid system developed by Karplus, Levitt and Warshel pulls the best from both classical and quantum physics.

Their methods are now used to study complex processes in chemistry and biochemistry, such as photosynthesis and how drugs couple to proteins in the body. Most importantly, "it has opened up a fruitful cooperation between theory and experiment that has made many otherwise unsolvable problems solvable," according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which distributes the Nobel Prize.

Both Karplus and Warshel are long-time recipients of NSF funding, dating back to the mid-1970s. Karplus received four awards between 1986 and 2000 from the Chemistry division in NSF in NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate. He is affiliated with the Université de Strasbourg in France as well as Harvard University. Warshel also received four NSF grants, from 1983 to 2005, from the Chemistry division as well as the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences division, in NSF's Biological Sciences directorate. Warshel is affiliated with the University of Southern California.

Levitt, of Stanford University School of Medicine, received a NSF grant in 1990 from the Foundation's Biological Infrastructure division. Much of the laureates' research was also enabled by NSF-funded supercomputers: both the sophisticated cyberinfrastructure and the scientists who support the technology.

Economics: Eugene F. Fama, Lars Peter Hansen, Robert J. Shiller

Fama and Hansen, both of the University of Chicago, and Yale University's Shiller jointly won the 2013 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences "for their empirical analysis of asset prices."

Understanding the behavior of asset prices is important not just for investors and economists, but average citizens making choices about how to save their money. Mispricing of assets can also be devastating to the larger economy, contributing to bubbles or crashes, even the recent global recession.

Empirical asset pricing is now one of the most active areas of economic study. The research of Fama, Hansen and Shiller built the foundation for this discipline, by developing new methods for analyzing asset prices, then applying those methods to study prices of stocks, bonds and other assets

Fama and Shiller discovered the somewhat contradictory finding that stock and bond prices are impossible to forecast in the short term, yet can be predicted in the long term. Hansen developed a new statistical model to test rational theories of asset pricing. Together, the laureates findings have sparked subsequent research and even altered some market practices.

Fama has received seven NSF grants, while Hansen has received nine, from the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate, starting in the early 1980s. Shiller has received nine NSF grants since 1979. In 2009, Schiller participated in a NSF webcast on the housing market crisis--which he predicted three years before-available here. Shiller was also selected as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow in 1967. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in fields within NSF's mission, helping ensure the vitality and diversity of the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce. Of 212 NSF-supported Nobel laureates, 41 were selected as Graduate Research Fellows.

Physiology or medicine: James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman

Of the three laureates who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine "for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells," Rothman and Schekman are both NSF awardees.

Cells are like microscopic factories, building different molecules--hormones, for example, or enzymes--and sending them throughout the body via the blood stream. These molecules have to be produced and shipped to exactly the right cell surface at the right time to keep the body humming. Much of this cellular shuttling is done by membrane-covered vesicles. They transport molecules between organelles--specialized compartments within cells--or fuse with a cell's outside membrane to release a molecule.

The laureates uncovered how cells keep this transport system running smoothly, a fundamental process of cell physiology. Rothman, of Yale University, discovered that vesicles can fuse with cellular membranes through special protein complexes. Certain proteins only bind to specific places on a cell, which ensures the cargo is deposited where it needs to go. Rothman received a NSF grant in 1990 while a professor at Princeton University.

Schekman's work also elucidated how cells regulate vesicle transport, through experiments with yeast genes. He identified three different classes of genes that control different parts of the cellular transport system. Schekman is affiliated with the University of California-Berkley and is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He received three NSF awards, from 1977-1987, from the Biological Sciences directorate.

For a full list of NSF-funded Nobel laureates since 1950, visit the website: Nobel Prizes, the NSF Connection.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Jessica Arriens, NSF, (703) 292-2243, jarriens@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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