Nobel Prizes 2023: What to Know About the Winners and Their Work

Scientists behind Covid vaccines and quantum dots are among the recipients of this year's Nobel Prizes.

Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Goran K Hansson.
Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Goran K Hansson. JESSICA GOW/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Every October, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards six Nobel Prizes to individuals or groups for their outstanding contributions to science, literature and world peace. This year’s Nobel Prize season kicked off on Oct. 2, with the award for physiology or medicine given to two scientists behind Covid-19 vaccines.

The other five award categories are physics, chemistry, literature and peace, and economic science. The Nobel Prize Committee will reveal one award winner each day this week.

The Nobel Prize categories and laureates announced so far:

October 2: Physiology or Medicine

Laureates: Katalin Karikó, Drew Weissman

Karikó and Weissman were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work developing mRNA vaccines that helped protect millions of people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their research, which was first published in 2005, uncovered a new method of using mRNA to trigger immune responses, which companies like Pfizer and Moderna would eventually use to produce effective vaccines at an unprecedented rate. And their research may one day help produce vaccines for a wide range of diseases.

Katalin Karikó, 68, is a Hungarian-American biochemist who received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Szeged in Hungary in 1982. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1985, eventually taking a position at the University of Pennsylvania researching mRNA-based gene therapy. Karikó currently serves as a senior vice president at German biotech company BioNTech, which collaborated with Pfizer to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.

Drew Weissman, 64, is an American physician specializing in immunology and microbiology. In 1997, he opened a vaccine research lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Karikó and began collaborating on mRNA vaccine research.

October 3: Physics

Laureates: Anne L’Huillier, Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz

L’Huillier, Agostini and Krausz were jointly awarded the Noble Prize in Physics for their independent experiments and discoveries capturing the movement of electrons. The high speed of electrons had long proved them nearly impossible to record. Implementing technology that produces light pulses measured in attoseconds (an attosecond is one quintillionth, or 1×10−18, of a second), the three scientists have enabled revolutionary means of tracking the unseen world.

Anne L’Huillier, 65, is a French-Swedish physicist and a professor at Lund University in Sweden, where she leads a group studying the movements of electrons and chemical reactions on the atomic level. In 2003, a research team led by L’Huillier developed a method of generating light pulses at 170 attoseconds, beating the world record at the time. L’Huillier is the fifth woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. 

Pierre Agostini, 82, is a French experimental physicist and a professor emeritus at Ohio State University. In 2001, Agostini developed a method of recording light pulses as short as 250 attoseconds.

Ferenc Krausz, 61, is a Hungarian-Austrian physicist and a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany. In 2001, coinciding with Agostini’s experiments, Krausz developed a technique for generating light pulses at 650-attosecond intervals.

SEE ALSO: The Art of the Nobel Prize

October 4: Chemistry

Laureates: Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus, Alexei Ekimov

Bawendi, Brus and Ekimov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of quantum dots, which are semiconductor particles only a few nanometers in size. Quantum dots are so small that they were thought impossible to make. These tiny particles have a wide range of uses, from increasing the resolution of TV screens to taking images of cancer tissue.

Moungi Bawendi, 62, is a French-born American chemist and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor. He is among the most cited chemists of the last decade in the field of colloidal quantum dot research. Bawendi used to study under Brus as a postdoctoral researcher.

Louis Brus, 80, is a professor emeritus at Columbia University. His research focuses on experimental chemical physics and nanoscience. Brus began studying the electronic structure and dynamics of small gas phase molecules in the 1960s. He worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1973 to 1996, where his work led to the discovery of quantum dots.

Alexei Ekimov, 78, is a Russian physicist who has won multiple awards for his research in nanocrystal quantum dots. Ekimov has been living in the U.S. since 1999. He was previously the chief scientist at Nanocrystals Technology, a semiconductor company based in New York.

October 5: Literature

Laureate: Jon Fosse

Jon Fosse, 64, is a world-renowned Norwegian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist with over 40 published works translated across 40 languages. The Nobel committee awarded the prize to Fosse “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable”. Fosse is the fourth Norwegian writer to win the award, the last recipient being Sigrid Undset in 1928.

Fosse’s plays are some of the most performed throughout Europe, some of his work includes And We Shall Never Part (1994), A Summer’s Day (1999), and I Am the Wind (2007). Fosse debuted his first novel, Raudt, svart (Red, Black), in 1983 after graduating from the University of Bergen in Norway. His most recent work is his Septology series, a collection of seven novels published between 2019-2021. Fosse was also awarded International Ibsen Award in 2010, and the European Prize for literature in 2014.

October 6: Peace

Laureate: Narges Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi, 51, is an Iranian human rights activist and vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC). Mohammadi has spent over two decades advocating for Iranian women’s rights and criticizing the Iran’s use of the death penalty, actions that have seen her imprisoned multiple times by the Iranian government. Mohammadi was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all”.

Mohammadi, originally trained as an engineer at Qazvin International University, joined the DHRC in 2003 where she has dedicated many years assisting incarcerated activists and their families. She has been arrested 13 times and sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison due to her writings and work. Mohammadi is currently being held in Iran’s Evin Prison, where she has led civil rights workshops for women, staged multiple prison protests, and published essays condemning Iran’s treatment of protestors during the Mahsa Amini protests. She is the 5th Noble Peace Prize laureate to receive the award while imprisoned or under house arrest.

October 9: Economic Sciences

Laureate: Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin, 77, is an American professor of economics at Harvard University, and co-director of the Gender in the Economy Study Group at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Goldin was awarded the prize for her research detailing the history of women’s employment trends across the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as demonstrating the wage gap inequality between men and women in the labor market. Goldin is the third woman to receive the Noble Prize in Economic Science, and the first woman to be the sole winner for the year.

Goldin, born and raised in New York City, received her B.A. in economics from Cornell University and her PhD in industrial organization and labor economics from the University of Chicago. She was the first tenured professor in Harvard’s economic department. In 1990 she published her book, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, which gave a detailed chronology of the rise of women’s employment in the U.S. and the origins of wage inequality present today. Her research in how marriage and contraceptive availability affects women’s careers is considered as enormously influential in how we understand women’s advancement in the workforce.

Nobel Prizes 2023: What to Know About the Winners and Their Work