• Justin Friedberg

Eye on the Prize

The Nobel Prize celebrates progress in science, the arts, and world affairs. Its creator, Alfred Nobel, invented dynamite in 1867. He went on to establish the Prize in his will in 1896 to reward those who “... have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Since 1901, when it was first awarded, becoming a Nobel Laureate has become the greatest of honors, awarded to very few people. Each laureate receives an 18-karat gold medal and approximately $1,000,000- which gets split if there are multiple winners in a single category. This year, the Nobel Prize is being given to 11 individuals and one organization spanning six categories.

The award for physics this year is being shared by three people: Roger Penrose, an Oxford professor; Reinhard Genzel, a German astrophysicist; and Andrea Ghez, an American astronomer. Penrose is being awarded for “... the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity" Penrose was able to prove that Einstein's general theory of relativity truly accounts for the formation of black holes. Interestingly, Einstein didn’t believe that black holes existed, even though Penrose would later use Einstein’s own theory to prove him wrong. The other recipients of the physics Nobel Prize, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, are being awarded for “... the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy." Genzel and Ghez discovered Sagittarius A, the massive, yet invisible, black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Louise Glück, an American poet and author. She is receiving this award largely due to two of her most influential books, The Triumph of Achilles and The Wild Iris. She stands out among other writers with “... her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”.

This year, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine is being shared by three people: Harvey J. Alter, an American medical researcher; Michael Houghton, a British scientist; and Charles M. Rice, an American virologist. They are being awarded for “... the discovery of Hepatitis C virus” All three of them have contributed to the discovery of and further understanding of the Hepatitis C virus. This virus attacks the liver, is often chronic, and usually leads to severe symptoms such as internal bleeding, fluid build up, and fatigue (Mayo Clinic).

This year, the Nobel Prize for chemistry is being split between Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French professor and researcher; and Jennifer A. Doudna, an American biochemist. They are being awarded for their work with CRISPR, a powerful technology that allows scientists to edit genomes and their functions. This was a monumental nomination as it is the first time that the Nobel Prize for chemistry is being awarded to two women.

The fifth type of Nobel Prize has been awarded in economic sciences. Since this category was not included in Alfred Nobel’s original categories, there is no Nobel Prize given for economic sciences. Moreover, added in 1968, it’s actual name is the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. This award is being split between Paul R. Milgrom, an American economist; and Robert B. Wilson, a renowned economics professor. They are being awarded for “improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats." Both men helped make auctions, a common way of selling products, more predictable, efficient, and accessible to the public.

The last, but certainly not least award, is the overarching Nobel Peace Prize which is of utmost importance. The prize has been awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP), a United Nations programme that was established in 1961. The WFP has been awarded the prize for “its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,”. The WFP provides tens of millions of families with food all across the globe. As of 2019, the WFP has given food to 97 million people in 88 countries across the world (WFP.org).

The Nobel Prize, the most prestigious of awards, recognizes the most profound members of society in multiple fields of human achievement. The many specialties recognized by the Nobel awards highlight how crucial these accomplishments can be to various parts of life. Please allow yourself to be inspired by the admirable winners of the 2020 Nobel Prizes.