The 2006 Nobel Prize winners were announced Oct. 3-13. Each prize is worth about $1.4 million.
Chemistry: American Roger D. Kornberg was awarded the chemistry prize for research on the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription, the process by which cells take information from genes to produce proteins. Disruptions in the process are thought to be involved in illnesses including cancer and heart disease.
Literature: The Nobel Prize committee recognized Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city [Istanbul] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures." Pamuk gained international attention when charges, later dropped, were brought against him in 2005 for "insulting Turkishness" by referencing Armenian genocides of World War I. Pamuk's novels cited by the committee include The White Castle (1985), My Name is Red (2000), and Snow (2002).
Economics: American Edmund S. Phelps was given the economics prize "for his analysis of intertemporal trade-offs in macroeconomic policy"--a model of how wages, unemployment, and inflation interact. He theorized that wages and inflation rise together, until unemployment reaches an "equilibrium" level at which prices stagnate.
Peace: Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank won the prize for their pioneering efforts to extend "microcredit" to the poor. Yunus established the Grameen Bank to provide loans in seemingly insignificant amounts to the poor, especially women, who would be turned away by conventional banks. The small loans (the average amount is $200) are intended to alleviate poverty by providing the opportunity for self-sufficiency.
Physics: Americans John C. Mather and George F. Smoot shared the physics prize for their discovery of the blackbody form of cosmic microwave background radiation theoretically stemming from the "big bang" that formed the universe. Their work provides support for the big-bang theory, which says the universe formed from an explosion about 13.7 bil years ago.
Physiology or Medicine: Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig D. Mello shared the award for their 1998 discovery of RNA interference, or gene silencing. Their discovery demonstrated far-reaching potential for research, because it allows scientists to understand the roles of specific genes by suppressing them. The method also has potential for a new class of medications that can switch off unwanted disease processes.