Nobel Prize Lunch & Learn – A Summary

BY GURMEHAR KAUR BAJWA / STAFF WRITER

On December 2, Augustana hosted its fifth session of Lunch & Learn where members of the faculty
presented brief, simplified explanations of the contributions behind each of the 2020 Nobel
prizes in medicine, literature, chemistry and peace. The Nobel prizes are the legacy of Alfred
Nobel, a Swedish chemist and inventor who put all his wealth, accumulated by 355 patents, into
an endowment that continues to fund the prizes. The webinar, hosted by Dr. Ingrid Urberg
(Associate professor of Scandinavian studies) and Dr. Elizabeth McGinitie (Asst professor of
Chemistry) began with an informal session of getting to know the attendees, who had joined
from all over Canada, and some internationally. Each faculty member delivered a 10-minute
presentation, followed by a live Q&A session. The presenters represented the fields of English,
Chemistry, Biology, Economics and Scandinavian study.

The first speaker, Dr. Sheryl Gares, is an Associate professor of Biology and acting chair
of the Department of Science at Augustana. She discussed this year’s Nobel prize in medicine,
jointly presented to 3 scientists for their contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis. It
led to not only the discovery of hepatitis C virus, but also effective treatments for the same. The
recipients of the prestigious award were Doctors Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles
M. Rice. What made the prize especially remarkable this year, was that one of the recipients, Dr
Michael Houghton, is a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology
in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, at the University of Alberta. In the 1980s, he worked at
Chiron corporation while he and his colleagues developed research tools to isolate the viral
RNA. He’s been part of the University faculty since 2010. The introduction was followed by a
brief Q&A session with Dr. Gares where she discussed the WHO’s 2030 goal of eliminating
hepatitis. She expressed the most important factor affecting the completion of this goal was the accessibility of resources in the far reaches of the world, something that politics and bureaucracy
may impede.

The second presentation was by Marina Endicott, Associate lecturer in Creative writing
at Augustana. She discussed the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded to Louise Glück “for her
unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” What
makes the prize notable this year is the context in which we now find ourselves, living through a
pandemic in times of isolation; in a fragmented society where we often feel alone and
misunderstood. Louise Glück’s poetry explores the universal experiences of love, loss, grief and
isolation, evident from a poem of hers that was read during the presentation. Glück has had an
illustrious career, having taught at Princeton and Yale, and having won the majority of the
American poetry awards.

Next, Dr. Tomislav Terzin, Associate professor of Biology at Augustana, presented on
the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for
their discovery of a genome editing method CRISPR-CAS9, which had a revolutionary impact
on the ability to treat diseases. Emmanuelle Charpentier is a director at the Max Planck Institute
for Infection Biology at the Berlin laboratory and Jennifer A. Doudna is a professor at California
University, Berkeley. What makes the award especially notable this year is the fact that both
recipients are women. Their contribution is the discovery of methodology that enables the editing
of DNA, exactly where we would like to introduce this change. This would be especially useful
to reverse mutations.

The final presentation was by Dr. Varghese Manaloor, Associate professor of Economics
at Augustana, who presented the Nobel Peace Prize. This year the prize was awarded to the
United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger, to bettering conditions in conflict affected areas, and for acting as a driving force to prevent the use of hunger
as a weapon of war and conflict. In 2015, United Nations member states adopted 17 Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) to promote peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Goal 2 of
the SDGs is ‘Zero Hunger’. The presentation focussed on aspects of food insecurity and
conflicts and the role of WFP, which functions actively in about 80 countries, most of its work
being in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. It also leads logistic operations where a
humanitarian emergency requires a response from UN agencies and the humanitarian
community.

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