Molecules that are the world’s smallest machines. How companies should set executive and employee salaries. And, of course, Bob Dylan.

Each won or were the subjects that earned their discoverers a Nobel Prize this year in chemistry, economics and literature, respectively. Each, along with the discoveries in medicine and physics and the work of the winner of the Nobel peace prize, is the subject of the “Nobel at Noon” lunch and learn currently underway at the University of Colorado Denver.

Audience members at the Nobel at Noon lunch and learn.
Audience members at the Nobel at Noon lunch and learn. The series runs through December and explains the achievements of each prize winner.

The brown bag classes are Fridays at noon in CU Denver’s Student Commons Building. The talks are held in the admissions department’s Jerry Wartgow Welcome Center and will continue into December.

Nobel at Noon schedule

Oct. 28 – Chemistry

Nov. 4 – Medicine

Nov. 11 – Economics

Nov. 18 – Peace

Dec. 2 – Literature

Dec. 9 – Physics

All presentations are at noon in the Jerry Wartgow Welcome Center in the Student Commons Building, 1201 Larimer St.

The presentations are free and open to the public. Click here to reserve a spot.

The goal is to help people who are interested in the topics but are not specialists learn about the subjects, chemistry professor Robert Damrauer said. Faculty members will lead each session, including one on Dylan, the rock icon who controversially won the prize for literature this year. That talk is scheduled for Dec. 2, whether Dylan decides to accept the award or not.

Damrauer, who is also the associate vice chancellor for research, believes it’s “very, very” important for faculty to engage with a broad audience.

“I would like to make it an event that people want to attend regularly as a part of the greater CU Denver community,” he said.

Breakthroughs in Nanotechnology

The chemistry prize was won by Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines,” in the words of the Nobel Prize committee. Their series of discoveries started in 1983, and their work could lead to breakthroughs in nanotechnology, such as molecular syringes that could target specific cells.

Professor Robert Damrauer at the Nobel at Noon Lunch and Learn
Chemistry professor Robert Damrauer demonstrates how ring-shaped molecules can be made to interlock. The ability to interlock molecules could lead to breakthroughs in nanotechnology.

During the first lunch and learn, Damrauer explained how the chemists discovered how to make molecules consume energy and use it to move and do work. He also explained how those attributes fulfill the criteria to meet the definition of the world’s smallest machines.

Damrauer used strips of construction paper to demonstrate how two ring-shaped molecules could be made to loop together. The prize-winning scientists built on each other’s research to make motors that made parts of the molecules spin like rotors. Ultimately, they were able to create molecule-sized “nano-cars”—and six teams of scientists plan to hold a competition next year in which their molecular machines will race each other.

The lunch and learns are returning after a hiatus of several years, Damrauer said, and his hope is they continue in the future.

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