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From brain to black holes: winners of the largest scientific award announced

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The names of Breakthrough Prize winners for 2020 became known. The winners will divide between themselves 21.6 million US dollars (more than 1.4 billion rubles at the current exchange rate).

This year one prize was awarded in physics, four in biology and one in mathematics. Each of them is three million US dollars (about 198 million rubles at the current rate).

The jury also awarded six New Horizons awards, which are awarded for achievements in the field of physics and mathematics in the early stages of a career. Each of these premiums is one hundred thousand US dollars (about 6.6 million rubles at the current rate).

The award ceremony will take place on November 3.

We will briefly talk about the works for which they awarded the 2020 Breakthrough Prize.

Well and the Hole: Award in Fundamental Physics

The prize in fundamental physics will be shared by 347 members of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration . They won the award “for the first image of a supermassive black hole, obtained by combining telescopes the size of the Earth.”

We spoke in detail about this achievement. Recall that astronomers received the first ever image of a black hole. To do this, they combined six radio telescopes located in Spain, Antarctica, Chile, Mexico, Hawaii and the continental United States into a single system. The result is a single super telescope with a unique resolution (the ability to distinguish between small details).

Such a tool allowed specialists to obtain an image of a black hole weighing 6.5 billion suns, located in the center of the M87 galaxy.

The Way of Light: Math Award

Prizes in the field of mathematics were awarded to Alex Eskin ( Alex Eskin ) from the University of Chicago. The prize will be awarded to him “for revolutionary discoveries in the dynamics and geometry of the spaces of moduli of Abelian differentials, including the proof of the” magic wand theorem “jointly with Maryam Mirzakhani.”

The result obtained by Eskin in 2013 in collaboration with the late Mirzakhani, without much explanation, can only be estimated and understood by mathematicians. The theorem proved by these scientists made it possible to solve many long-posed problems.

Here is one of them. Let a ray of light from a point source penetrate into a room with mirrored walls, floor and ceiling at a certain angle. Mirrors are considered ideal, that is, light will be reflected from them an infinite number of times. Does this mean that he will eventually go through every point in the room?

From the discoveries of Eskin and Mirzakhani, the following conclusion follows. Let the room be a prism (for example, a box), and its base a polygon with angles whose values ​​are rational numbers. Then only a finite number of unlit points will remain in the room.

Fat commands the brain: premium in life sciences

One of the four awarded for the 2020 awards in the field of life sciences went to Jeffrey Friedman ( the Jeffrey Friedman ) of the Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He will receive the award “for the discovery of a new endocrine system through which adipose tissue sends signals to the brain that regulate food intake.”

Friedman found out what role in the regulation of our diet plays leptin secreted by adipose tissue. This hormone is produced when carbohydrates turn into new body fat. Low leptin causes hunger.

Friedman’s discovery helped scientists better understand the biological nature of obesity. Today, leptin therapy helps patients with lipodystrophy, a rare but very serious form of diabetes. Leptin-based medications are expected to be effective in treating some forms of obesity. Recall that more people suffer from overweight in the world today than from malnutrition.

Beautiful styling: Life Science Award

Another award for biological research will divide Franz-Ulrich Hartl ( by Franz-by Ulrich Hartl ) from the Institute of Biochemistry of the Max Planck Society and Arthur Horwich ( of Arthur Horwich ) from the Yale School of Medicine. Laureates will be awarded for “identifying the functions of molecular chaperones in mediating protein folding and preventing protein aggregation.”

The biologists mentioned have discovered a mechanism that allows protein molecules to fold properly into a tertiary and quaternary structure . As the body ages, this system works worse and some protein molecules take an irregular shape. So the foundation is laid for cancer, as well as neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Now experts are looking for ways to stop or reverse the degradation of this important biological system.

The Pain of Being: Life Science Award

Another “biological” award for 2020 will receive David Julius ( David Julius ) from the University of California at San Francisco. The prize was awarded to him for “the discovery of the molecules, cells and mechanisms underlying the sensation of pain.”

Julius’ research deals with the question of where the pain comes from, but it also touches on related topics. So, the scientist found that a burning sensation from hot pepper and coolness from menthol arises for a reason: the substances contained in them really irritate temperature receptors.

The work of a scientist can help doctors create new painkillers that are not addictive and other side effects.

Ariadne’s Tangle: Life Science Award

Finally, another prize in the life sciences was awarded to Virginia Man-Yee Lee from the University of Pennsylvania. The scientist was awarded the prize “for detecting TDP43 protein aggregates in frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as well as for revealing that various forms of alpha synuclein in different types of cells underlie Parkinson’s disease and multiple systemic atrophy.”

It is known that in the nervous system of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, tau proteins fold into tangles. In 1991, Lee suggested that it was these tangles that caused neurons to malfunction. The biologist discovered similar formations in patients with Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Li later discovered that molecules rolled up into balls could “infect” normal proteins with the same flaw. So the disease spreads through the central nervous system.

The studies of the laureate have changed the scientists’ ideas about neurodegenerative diseases and gave mankind hope for the development of effective medicines for these ailments.

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