Thoughts on Nobel laureates

Mar 07, 2002, vol. 23, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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A peacock's tail, mirror image molcules and mathematical marvels - they will help three Simon Fraser University professors convey their thoughts on the importance of Nobel prize winning work.

Economist Nicolas Schmitt, chemist Peter Wilson (above, with a model of a molecule) and mathematician Jonathan Borwein will present the next three lectures in March and April in a six part series called Making a Difference by Pursuing a Passion for Excellence.

The faculties of science and arts are sponsoring the series.
In his lecture, What does a university degree have in common with a peacock's tail? The importance of information in economics, Schmitt will talk about the work of 2001 Nobel prize laureates George Akerlof, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz.

These three scholars were awarded the Nobel prize in 2001 for discovering the asymmetric character of many markets.

Asymmetric information refers to the fact that participants on one side of a market have much better information than participants on the other side.

“The work of the three laureates has changed forever our understanding of how people actually react in the free market,” says Schmitt. “Spence's work, for example, supports the view that students get a university degree to give a signal of higher ability to potential employers, like a peacock signals a potential mate.”

In his lecture, The 2001 Nobel prize in chemistry in reflection, Wilson will reflect on the creative thinking that led three chemists to revolutionize the synthesis of organic molecules.

“Many organic molecules can exist as non-super-imposable mirror images, meaning the reflected image is different, the same way our left and right hands can't be superimposed on each other,” explains Wilson. “Over billions of years nature has evolved chemical processes that make only one of the mirror images. But it's a challenge for scientists to copy nature.”

William Knowles', Ryoji Noyori's and K. Sharpless' circumvention of roadblocks has led to improved molecular synthesis for the discovery, development and manufacture of modern pharmaceuticals.

Borwein's lecture, Fields of Dreams: Mathematical Marvels, demonstrate the importance of funding prizes, such as the Fields medal and Nevanlinna prize.

Awarded by the International Mathematical Union to mathematicians, the Fields and the Nevanlinna are equivalent in prestige to the Nobel Prize.

Borwein will explain how their recipients' passion for mathematical marvels has given birth to algorithms and physical theories that are making inconceivable technology, such as quantum computing, a real possibility.

“The practical outcomes that are now conceivable, such as near instantaneous factoring of large numbers via quantum computing, would transform the way the 21st century world works,” predicts Borwein.

For times and dates of these free public lectures click here or call 604-291-5100.

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