Nobel Prize

2 minute read

How do our brains know whether we’re in an office or lounging on a beach?

We have the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to thank for identifying the brain cells that function as our inner GPS system. John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser received the award on Oct. 6 for discovering that the brain works like a satellite, pinpointing the cells that beam signals for triangulating our location. In 1971, O’Keefe identified “place” cells in the hippocampus of rats that were active when the animals moved to specific locations. Those nerves oriented the brain in space–the cage, for example, or in humans’ cases, our homes.

The Mosers, a husband-and-wife team, found another group of nerve cells that pool such place information into coordinates that map precise locations–the left corner of the cage or the sofa in the living room. It takes these cells working together to allow us to know where we are.

Another three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, a more energy-efficient lighting source. And three others won the Chemistry prize for improving microscopes to see finer detail than before.


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