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Nobel Prize exhibit explores science that changed history (pictures)

CNET takes a peek at the science, history and culture behind the Nobel Prize and the mysteries of the CERN supercollider at Singapore's ArtScience Museum.

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Aloysius Low
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1 of 20 Aloysius Low/CNET

SINGAPORE -- If you're in town for a visit in the next two months or so, you may want to pop by the ArtScience Museum, near the impressive Marina Bay Sands resort. The venue is currently playing host to an exhibit that's both fascinating and free.

The Nobel Prize: Ideas Changing the World exhibition examines some of the greatest achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, literature, peace, and economic sciences. Additionally, you'll learn about the history behind the prize as well as the personal life of inventor Alfred Nobel.

The Singapore exhibition is the first time the touring exhibit will feature a showcase of 20 unique items related to Nobel Prize-awarded discoveries. It also includes discoveries from 2015 winners, such as Professor Tu Youyou's medicine for treating malaria.

The first thing you'll see when you enter the exhibition is Alfred Nobel's will, in which he bequeathed the bulk of his estate to establishing awards for those who had contributed the "greatest benefit on mankind."

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For Nobel, the Prizes were a way for him to buff a tarnished legacy. Famous for inventing dynamite, an obituary that was published mistakenly while he was still alive had labelled him a "merchant of death." Disconcerted by this, Nobel changed his will to donate 94 percent of his estate to what would become the Nobel Prizes. He had no wife or any children when he died.

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The humble spray can: possibly not the most advanced item in the world, but the scientific history behind it is fascinating. Initially, spray cans used CFC gases as propellants, but 1995's Chemistry Prize winners Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland proved that these gases were harmful to the ozone layer, which led to them being phased out in household objects.

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Flasks from Nobel's laboratory sit alongside a goniometer crystal mount and a model of a ribosome. The crystal mount was used by Roderick MacKinnon in his work on ion channels, which are used to transmit signals to muscles and nerves, while a ribosome is a nanomachine responsible for protein synthesis.

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Also on display was a pocket calculator used by Herbert Simon, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for his exploration of the decision-making processes within economic organizations.

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Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, who would become the father of antibiotic medicine through his continued research on, and advocacy for, the chemical throughout the 1930s. Fleming was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945, alongside Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain, who helped mass-produce the substance.

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Alfred Nobel's most important invention, dynamite, was widely used in mining. Nobel also invented two more types of explosives: gelignite, a gel-based explosive that's more stable than dynamite, and ballistite, a smokeless propellant.

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The Nobel Prize medal is made of real gold and weighs around 175 grams (about 6 ounces). Apart from the medal and a nifty diploma, winners are also awarded 8 million Swedish krona, which converts to about $915,000, £600,000 or AU$1.3 million. The amount is shared between the winners of the prize, and is usually donated to a cause or organisation.

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A closer look at the medal. The design varies depending on the institution that awards the Nobel Prize.

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Collider, an exhibition about the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)'s Large Hadron Collider, is also on display at the ArtScience Museum. Unlike the free Nobel exhibit, Collider has a S$14 entrance fee ($10, £6.50 and AU$14). In it, you'll get to see actual parts from colliders, including the radio frequency cavity (pictured) from the Large Electron-Positron Collider.

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An actual picture of a blackboard at the CERN facility in Switzerland.

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The US-built Tevatron was a circular particle accelerator located in Illinois and discovered the top quark, an element of matter. Shown here is one of the magnets used in the collider, which ceased operation in 2011 due to budget cuts.

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Here's a replica of the Lawrence-Livingston 11-inch cyclotron made in 1931, which Ernest Lawrence dubbed the "proton merry-go-round". He and his student, Milton Stanley Livingston, used this 11-inch machine to accelerate protons through 1 million volts before moving on to bigger devices.

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Cathode-ray tubes were used in monitors and TV sets before they were replaced by LCD panels. This model, however, was used in 1897 to help discover the electron.

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This photo is one of the most important images in the history of particle physics, as it provides evidence of the antiparticle of the electron, the positron.

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This accelerating cavity from the LHC will be heading back to the tunnel once the exhibition is over. It's your only chance to take a look before it returns to service.

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If magnets are your thing, then you should check out the superconducting dipole magnet. The magnet bends proton beams around the 27km (16.8-mile) LHC ring. There are a total of 1,232 of these magnets in the LHC. Each magnet is usually 16.5 metres (54 feet) long.

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The cross section shows what the dipole magnet looks like inside. Liquid helium flows through the magnets to keep them at a chilly -271.3 Celsius (-456 Fahrenheit).

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A telephone booth from the LHC tunnel. The pinnacle of high technology.

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A detector used to identify bottom quarks. The beam passes through the circulor cutout.

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