A simple reporting mistake spiralled into a century of recognition of donnish achievements. A simple err of writing caused a great mind to reflect upon his life, and the legacy he would leave. That man was no other than Alfred Nobel. Upon reading of his mistaken demise in the newspaper, Nobel decided to utilize his fortune to acknowledge “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” The laureates receive a diploma, a monetary prize, and a place next to pioneers and visionaries in the field of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Economics, and world peace.
This past week of October gave the world its Nobel laureates for this year. Every year, a traditional ceremony is held in Stockholm and each laureate is presented the prize by the king of Sweden. Due to the current pandemic, the prizes were announced online instead. Let’s take a brief look at the people who have joined the ranks of some of the greatest minds humanity has known.
Albert Einstein said, “Black holes are where God divided by zero.” As black holes continue to be one of the most daunting yet fascinating problems physicists face, Sir Roger Penrose has given soundproof of their existence, backed by strong topological mathematics and general relativity. He shows that singularity is indeed possible, and for this extraordinary feat, he is a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics. He shares the prize with Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, who also worked on uncovering the mystique behind black holes. It was long speculated that the centre of the Milky Way was home to a supermassive black hole. However, the radiation wasn’t consistent with that of a quasar. Both laureates independently developed new methods of speckle imaging and deduced that the stars were moving too quickly and tightly to be orbiting anything other than a black hole.
Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability. The Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The prize honours the stout amount of work that went towards identifying the reason and solution behind one of the world’s greatest afflictions, which has caused over 1.34 million deaths. The discovery of this virus has eliminated the risk of transmission via blood and comes in testing times to serve as an inspiration to the scientists working on the Covid-19 vaccine.
CRISPR is a gene-editing technique that has sparked tremendous excitement in the field of genetics. Due to the programmability of the technology, it is highly accurate and efficient and can be modified to serve multiple purposes. It is no less than a revolution as it holds the potential to cure cancers and undesired genetic mutations. For providing humanity with the hope of a better tomorrow, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna share the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for “the development of a method for genome editing”.
The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the American poet Louise Glück, “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” A Pulitzer Prize winner, Glück writes dreamy, narrative poetry recalling memories and travels, only to hesitate and pause for new insights.
In his will, signed by Alfred Nobel on November 27, 1985, he mentioned that one part of his fortune that went towards the Nobel Prizes would be dedicated to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. And this year, the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to the United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger and for preventing hunger to be a mode of warfare. Established at the behest of the American president Dwight Eisenhower, the WFP is the largest humanitarian community committed to ending hunger.
Although Economic Sciences was not a part of Alfred Nobel’s will, the Swedish National Bank, better known as the Sveriges Riksbank, has sponsored the prize since 1969, in honour of Nobel. This year, Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson have been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for their contributions to auction theory. Milgrom and Wilson “invented new formats for auctioning off many interrelated objects simultaneously, on behalf of a seller motivated by broad societal benefit rather than maximal revenue.” In 1994, the US authorities first used one of their auction formats to sell radio frequencies to telecom operators. Since then, many other countries have followed suit.
A good point to note is the number of women who received the accolade this year. Out of the 900+ Nobel Laureates since 1901, only 57 have been women. In fact, this is the first time that two women are receiving the Nobel Prize together. During times when the world is coming together to rally for the cause of gender equality, four women achieving the highest possible honour in their fields is an inspiration to everyone.
These men and women have broken barriers to help humanity solve challenges for its advancement. Their ingenuity and hard work have us taken one step ahead on the path of greater knowledge. They are an inspiration for all, and a true boon to mankind.
All the images have been taken from the official Nobel Prize website https://www.nobelprize.org/