PM Modi receives UN’s ‘Champions of the Earth Award’, says Indians committed to saving environment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi  received the United Nation’s highest environmental honor, the ‘Champions of the Earth Award’ from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at a ceremony in Delhi.

The award was announced for his “unprecedented pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022.” Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron were recognised in the ‘Policy Leadership Category’ for their “pioneering work in championing” the International Solar Alliance and “new areas of levels of cooperation on environmental action”, the UN Environment Programme said.

The Cochin International Airport took home the ‘Entrepreneurial Vision’ Award for its leadership in the use of sustainable energy. “Cochin is showing the world that our ever-expanding network of global movement doesn’t have to harm the environment. As the pace of society continues to increase, the world’s first fully solar-powered airport is proof positive that green business is good business,” the UNEP statement said.

The other winners include environmental and indigenous rights defender Joan Carling and the ‘Beyond Meat and Impossible Food’ in the Science and Innovation category for their popular, plant-based alternative to beef and “their efforts to educate consumers about environmentally conscious alternatives.”

China’s Zhejiang’s Green Rural Revival Programme was awarded for the Inspiration and Action for the “transformation of a once heavily polluted area of rivers and streams in East China’s Zhejiang province.”

Past winners have included Afroz Shah, who led the world’s largest beach cleanup and won the award in 2016, Rwandan President Paul Kagame also won the same year, while former US Vice-President Al Gore won the award in 2007. Ocean Cleanup CEO Boyan Slat won in 2014, while scientist-explorer Bertrand Piccard, and developer of Google Earth Brian McClendon won the award in 2013.

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Physics Nobel prize won by Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland

Three scientists have been awarded the 2018 Nobel prize in physics for creating groundbreaking tools from beams of light.

The American physicist Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou from France, and Donna Strickland in Canada will share the 9m Swedish kronor (£770,000) prize announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Tuesday. Strickland is the first female physics laureate for 55 years.

Ashkin, who at 96 is the oldest winner of any Nobel prize, told the committee that he may not be able to give any interviews because he was “very busy” on his latest scientific paper. He had previously complained of being overlooked for the Nobel prize in 1997 when another Bell Labs researcher, the US physicist Steven Chu, shared the award for cooling and trapping atoms with lasers.

Through his research in the 1970s and 80s, Ashkin showed how the radiation pressure of light could be harnessed to move physical objects without burning them, realizing “an old dream of science fiction,” according to the Swedish Academy. In 1987, Ashkin published a landmark paper showing how optical tweezers could capture living bacteria without harming them.

Around the same time, Mourou and Strickland demonstrated how to create ultrashort, intense bursts of laser light by stretching, amplifying and finally recompressing light waves. Mourou said he had a key insight into solving the problem while riding on a ski lift at Bristol Mountain resort in Rochester, New York. The pair’s seminal paper in 1985 was Strickland’s first as an academic.

Amanda Wright, associate professor at the faculty of engineering, University of Nottingham, said she was “delighted” with the prize announcement. She said a recently-funded collaboration between Nottingham, Heriot-Watt and the University of Glasgow will use optical tweezers to explore how cells talk to their surroundings and vice versa, “and how these interactions affect disease progression.”

Jim Al-Khalili, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Surrey, added: “The most thrilling thing for me is to see Donna Strickland share this year’s prize. It is quite shocking to know that she is only the third woman to win a physics Nobel ever,” said “It is also quite delicious that this comes just a few days after certain controversial and misogynistic comments made at a conference at Cern about women in physics.

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James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine


Two scientists who discovered how to harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer have won the 2018 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.

James Allison, of the US, and Tasuku Honjo, of Japan, will share the 9m Swedish kronor (£775,000) prize, announced by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The scientists’ groundbreaking work on the immune system has paved the way for a new class of cancer drugs that are already dramatically changing outcomes for patients. It is the first time the development of a cancer therapy has been recognized with a Nobel prize.

The immune system normally seeks out and destroys mutated cells, but cancer finds sophisticated ways to hide from immune attacks. One way is by ramping up braking mechanisms designed to prevent immune cells from attacking normal tissue. In the 1990s, Allison discovered the first of these built-in brakes, known as checkpoints. Other teams were investigating the potential of enhancing the action of checkpoints to treat autoimmune diseases, but Allison showed that doing the reverse – switching off the brakes – could produce remarkable results in treating mice with cancer.

Independently, in 1992, Honjo discovered a second checkpoint that worked through a different mechanism and treatments based on this work have produced dramatic improvements to patient outcomes in the clinic.

The idea of mobilizing the immune system to tackle cancer was first proposed more than a century ago, but it was only after the discoveries of Allison and Honjo that this tantalizing possibility could be turned into a clinical treatment.

The resultant drugs, known as checkpoint inhibitors, have significant side effects but have been shown to produce remarkable results in treating lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma.

The Nobel assembly’s summary said Allison, who is professor and chair of immunology at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, “studied a known protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors. He then developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients.

A large number of checkpoint therapy trials are currently underway against most types of cancer.

Allison’s former colleague, Prof Sergio Quezada of University College London, watched the Nobel prize announcement along with other former labmates at a cancer conference in New York. “The work that Jim and Honjo did was so seminal that people had been waiting for a few years for it [to win a Nobel],” he said.

Prof Dan Davis, of the University of Manchester and author of The Beautiful Cure, a book that describes the work that led to today’s prize, said: “I’m so thrilled that a Nobel has been awarded for this game-changing cancer therapy. It doesn’t work for everyone but lives have been saved, and it has sparked a revolution in thinking about the many other ways in which the immune system can be harnessed or unleashed to fight cancer and other illnesses. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg – many more medicines like this are on the horizon.”

The Nobel prize in physics will be announced on Tuesday, followed by chemistry on Wednesday, peace on Friday and economics on Monday. The literature prize has been canceled this year following allegations of sexual misconduct.


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