The Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2003)

Created By: Michelle Fang, Teja Gorantla, Connor Headding

Who Won?

Name: Peter Agre

  • Date of Birth: January 30, 1949

  • Place of Birth: Northfield, Minnesota, USA

  • Education: Ausburgs College, John Hopkins School of Medicine

  • Place of Work When Awarded Prize: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (in Baltimore, MD, USA)

  • Scientific Field: Biochemistry and Structural Chemistry

  • Interesting Fact #1: Agre's motivation to win the Nobel Prize was to "discover of water channels".

  • Interesting Fact #2: Agre actively participated in politics and tried to run for senator in 2008.

Name: Robert MacKinnon

  • Date of Birth: February 19, 1956

  • Place of Birth: Burlington, Massachusetts, USA

  • Education: Brandeis University, Tufts University, University of Massachusetts Boston

  • Place of Work When Awarded Prize: Rockefeller University (MacKinnon worked as a professor and head of Molecular Neurobiology and Biophysics.

  • Scientific Field: Biochemistry and Structural Chemistry

  • Interesting Fact #1: He met his wife at the university where worked.

What Did They Do?

Scientific Discoveries:

Experiments & Lab Work:
  • Agre tested his hypothesis (theory) by comparing cells that had proteins versus cells that didn't and found the osmosis (transportation of water across membranes) only occurred in cells with proteins.

  • By mapping out atoms, MacKinnon discovered that ion channels move around potassium ions (generate power for our bodies).


  • Peter Agre found a way to isolate a membrane protein (proteins that interact with the edge of the cell) and realized he discovered a water channel (pores where water can flow in and out through).

  • Then Roderick MacKinnon discovered how salt ions (compounds keep our body in balance) in water are moved in or out of body cells.

Why They Won?

Important Contribution:
  • Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon won because they used contemporary biochemistry to understand the intricate connections between cells on an atomic level. They discovered a family of molecular channels (cellular pores that move substances in and out of the cell) which are essential for a cell to operate.

Did it solve problems?

  • It solved the mystery of how cells take in water and opened a new understanding of how diseases caused by poor functioning water or ion channels in a cell work. This led to more effective pharmaceutical drugs.

Did it challenge past theories?

  • Rather than challenging past scientists, Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon used and added on to research conducted in the past. For example, by 1950, it was already known that water can transported in and out of the cell but only Peter Agre could find structure of this channel.

Current Usage:
  • The decisive discovery opened scientists to new studies of biochemical, physiological, and genetic studies of water channels in prokaryotes (single-celled organisms), bacteria, plants, and mammals.

Future impact:

  • Agre and MacKinnon's research have given future scientists more understanding of how, for example, the kidney recover water from primary urine. This has begin a revolution in the research of diseases, especially those of the kidneys, heart, muscles, and nervous system.

Extra Citations:

Roderick Mackinnon." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Jan. 16.