Nobel Prizes go to Royal Society Fellows

08 October 2009

Two Fellows of the Royal Society have been honoured with Nobel Prizes this week.

Charles K. Kao CBE FRS FREng has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2009 by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He receives the award jointly with Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith.

In 1966, Kao made a discovery that led to a breakthrough in fibre optics. He carefully calculated how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fibres.  He found that with a fibre of purest glass it would be possible to transmit light signals over 100 kilometers, compared to only 20 meters for the fibres available in the 1960s. Building on Kao's work researchers were able to fabricate the first ultra pure fibre by 1970.

Today, fibre optics form the backbone of the world's telecommunication networks, facilitating  global broadband communication such as the Internet and allowing text, music, images and video to be transfered around the world in a split second.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn FRS has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009 by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet. She receives the award jointly with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak.

Their  work has helped further our understanding on human ageing, cancer and stem cells. The three scientists were able to show that the ends of the chromosomes, the telomeres, and an enzyme that forms them, telomerase, are what protects chromosomes from degradation and allows them to be copied in a complete way during cell division.

This fundamental discovery has added a new dimension to our knowledge of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies.