By Caroline Sun
Each year, the Nobel Prizes are distributed to their winners on December 10th—the same date on which Alfred Nobel died in 1896—during the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies, hosted in Stockholm and Oslo. The winners are announced in October and the prizes are usually handed to them during the ceremony. This year though, in the context of Covid-19, some of the events will be happening instead in digital form and the prizes, including a medal and a diploma, will be sent to each winner’s residing countries.
Another important change in this year’s prize distribution is the total grant each category receives. 1 million more Swedish krona will be added to the previous amount allotted to the Nobelists, which makes a grand total of 10 million Swedish krona for each of the 6 categories!
This event takes place to acknowledge the most important advancements made over the span of a year in the following 6 categories: physics, physiology or medicine, chemistry, literature, peace work, and economic sciences.
There were 3 laureates in total this year in the category of physics. Roger Penrose, who once worked with the late Stephen Hawking, is a retired professor from the University of Oxford and got half of the grant. Reinhard Genzel, of the University of California Berkeley, won the other half of the grant jointly with Andrea Ghez from the University of California, Los Angeles. Both received a quarter of the grant. All 3 scientists contributed to the understanding of black holes. According to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Roger Penrose “used ingenious mathematical methods
in his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity” and Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “refined new techniques to compensate for distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, building unique instruments and committing themselves to long-term research.”
Physiology or Medicine
This year’s laureates under the category of Medicine have made a major contribution when discovering the Hepatitis C virus. The Nobelists are Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice. As the press release says, this discovery “revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.” The grant was separated into 3 equal parts for this category.
Two women have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year. They are Emmanuelle Carpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, both rewarded for their work on genome editing, a technology that permits scientists to edit an organism’s DNA with the goal of, for example, decreasing a genetic disease’s risk. Here’s what the Nobel Prize Organization’s website had to say about this year’s winners’ work:
“[…], researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and nay make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”
This category of the Nobel Prize was awarded to one person, and she is Louise Glück, an American poet and an English professor at Yale University. According to the “Poetry Foundation”, Glück is “Considered by many to be one of America’s most talented contemporary poets” and “known for her poetry’s technical precision, sensitivity, and insight into loneliness, family relationships, divorce, and death.” Before winning the Nobel Prize, Glück also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 and the National Book Award in 2014!
The Peace Prize was given to the World Food Programme (WFP), which is “the world’s biggest humanitarian organization” (World Food Programme) and one of the United Nations’ branches. It is involved in supporting countries with climate change, economic and political difficulties, and starvation. As the foundation’s website states, “…, WFP has always been an advocate for the critical role peace has in ending hunger, and for the use of food as a tool for peace.” While the global impact of Covid-19 has worsened the economy of many communities who are then affected even more by hunger, it has made the foundation work harder towards their goal and helped countries most in need, like Yemen and South Sudan, during the pandemic.
The Prize in Economic Sciences was given to 2 laureates for their studies on how auctions work; they are Paul Milgrom from Stanford University and Robert Wilson from Harvard University. With their understanding of the mechanism of auctions, they then created a new auction format for things, who’s values aren’t easily determined, like radio frequencies. The Nobel Prize Organization declared that “The Laureates’ ground- breaking research about auctions has thus been of great benefit, for buyers, sellers, and society as a whole.”
In Alfred Nobel’s will, he declared his wish to award annually people who, as said in his exact words, “during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” The work of this year’s Nobelists and their precedents’ work is truly inspiring, especially to young generations; it just shows how much humans have done already and how much further we can go.
“Poetry Foundation” website Nobel Prize website
World Good Programme’s website