Nobel Prizes

2020 Nobel Prize In Physics

  • The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded with one half to Roger Penrose and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez.
  • With this award Professor Andrea Ghez becomes the fourth woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics after Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert-Meyer (1963) and Donna Strickland (2018).

What was Roger Penrose’s contribution?

  • Roger Penrose has been awarded the prize because of his theoretical work which showed that black holes can form and exist as solutions of Einstein’s field equations.
  • Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity on November 18, 1915. 
  • Soon after that (January 13, 1916) German astronomer Karl Schwarzschild found a solution to these equations that showed a singularity – a point where physical quantities take infinitely large or infinitesimally small values and therefore are not realisable physically.
  • For a long time this was a bit of an embarrassment to Einstein as it appeared his equations had unphysical solutions and may not be correct.
  • In 1939, Robert Oppenheimer and his student Hartland Snyder came up with a paper where they identified and interpreted Schwarzschild’s result as a horizon beyond which the star closes off and can only be felt by its gravitational field. 
  • However, Einstein did not agree with this yet.
  • Around the mid-1960s strange phenomena were being discovered experimentally by astrophysicists that led John Wheeler to reconsider the physics of gravitational collapse. 
  • He suggested to Roger Penrose to revisit this concept. 
  • Using novel mathematics and topology he built up the mechanism by which such a collapse can occur and a black hole can form.
  • This was the theoretical discovery that made “black hole” an accepted concept in physics. 
  • The name was first used by American physicist Robert Dicke in 1960, it was popularised by John Wheeler.

What was the work done by Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez?

  • Two independent groups of observational astrophysicists let by Prof Genzel and Prof Ghez respectively have been monitoring the centre of the Milky Way for nearly three decades. 
  • They were studying the compact radio source Sagittarius A* near the galaxy’s centre which we now know to be a Supermassive Black hole. Saggittarius A* is 25,000 light years away.
  • The working hypothesis was this: The stars around the galactic centre appeared to be moving in orbits around some source.
  • If this source was pointlike, they will move in Keplerian orbits – that is orbits similar to what planets like earth mars etc have around their stars. 
  • If the mass at the centre was spread out among many objects, the stars orbiting them will not have perfect keplerian orbits.
  • Just imagine their challenging experiment from this great distance of 25,000 light years. 
  • They have to identify and track individual stars and not be distracted by interstellar dust.
  • Yet they managed to keep tracking the stars using near infrared light telescopes and successfully proved that the mass was indeed concentrated at a centre – Sagittarius A*.
  • They spotted stars which the teams named S2 and So2 which orbited Sagittarius A* in 16 years, taking elliptical orbit.
  • The interpretation of this was that Sagittarius A* is indeed a supermassive black hole.
  • The imaging of the black hole silhouette by the Event Horizon Telescope further establishes the existence of supermassive black holes, thereby validating the prize this year.

Nobel Chemistry Prize 

  • Two women have been awarded the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for the discovery of the CRISPR genetic scissors used to edit the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision.
  • Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna will share the 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000) prize announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm – the first time that two women have shared the prize.
  • The researchers won the prize for “for the development of a method for genome editing”.

2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

  • Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 for discovering one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.
  • Using components of the CRISPR system, researchers can add, remove, or even alter specific DNA sequences. 
  • This technology has introduced new opportunities in cancer therapies, curing inherited diseases and also in plant inbreeding.

How Did The Researchers Develop The Scissors?

  • Emmanuelle Charpentier who was studying a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes, noticed a previously unknown molecule called tracrRNA. 
  • Further studies revealed that this tracrRNA was part of the bacteria’s immune system and it helps the bacteria destroy viral DNA. 
  • She published this discovery in 2011.
  • The same year, along with Jennifer Doudnathey, she succeeded in recreating the bacteria’s scissors and reprogramming it. 
  • Charpentier and Doudna then proved that they can now use these scissors to cut any DNA molecule at a required site.

Why the name CRISPR/Cas?

  • CRISPR is an abbreviation for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.
  • These sequences are a part of the bacteria’s immune system. 
  • Bacteria that have survived a virus infection add a piece of the genetic code of the virus into its genome as a memory of the infection. 
  • In addition to these CRISPR sequences, researchers discovered special genes called CRISPR-associated, abbreviated as cas.

What was the controversy on CRISPR-Cas9 technology?

  • In 2018, a geneticist from China, He Jiankui claimed that he altered the genes of twin girls born this month to create the first gene-edited babies. 
  • He said that he used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to edit the genes of twin girls. The editing process, which he calls gene surgery, “worked safely as intended” and the girls are “as healthy as any other babies”.


2020 Nobel Prize for Medicine

  • Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
  • Announcing the prize in Stockholm, the Nobel Committee noted that the trio’s work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses.
  • Their work make possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.
  • For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population.
  • The World Health Organisation estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. 
  • The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.
  • The prestigious Nobel award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over USD 1,118,000), courtesy of a bequest left 124 years ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.

What is Hepatitis C virus?

  • Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and causes Hepatitis C disease which affects the liver. According to WHO, “globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection and a significant number develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.”
  • In 2016, it was estimated that approximately 3,99,000 people died globally from hepatitis C.

How did they discover a new virus?

  • Harvey J. Alter who was studying hepatitis in patients who had received blood transfusions, found many unexplained infections.
  • Tests for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B virus infection showed that they were not the cause. 
  • His team demonstrated that blood from these patients could transmit the disease to chimpanzees, and more studies showed that an unknown infectious agent was behind this. 
  • The mysterious new illness was termed “non-A, non-B” hepatitis.
  • This new virus could not be isolated for several years using the traditional techniques for virus isolation. 
  • Michael Houghton and his team created a collection of DNA fragments from the blood of an infected chimpanzee and thoroughly searched it.
  • They found a novel RNA virus belonging to the Flavivirus family and named it the Hepatitis C virus.
  • To understand if this new virus alone could cause hepatitis, Charles M. Rice used genetic engineering, generated an RNA variant of the virus and injected it into the liver of chimpanzees. 
  • The virus was detected in the blood and the chimpanzees exhibited changes similar to those seen in humans with the disease. 
  • This was the final proof that the virus alone was the cause behind the unexplained cases of transfusion-mediated hepatitis.

Why does this discovery matter?

  • The discoveries by the three Nobel laureates have helped design sensitive blood tests that have eliminated the risk of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis. 
  • Their discovery also helped develop antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C.
  • This has now raised hopes of eradicating the virus from the world population.

Nobel Prize in Literature

  • American poet Louise Glück has been named the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature. 
  • According to the 7-member Nobel Committee, the Prize was given to Ms. Glück “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”
  • Born 1943 in New York, Ms. Glück, is a professor of English at Yale University. 
  • She made her debut in 1968 with Firstborn, and was soon acclaimed as one of the most prominent poets in American contemporary literature. 
  • She has received several prestigious awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize (1993) and the National Book Award (2014).
  • Mired in controversy, the award was won by Austria’s Peter Handke last year, alongside Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk who was announced the winner for the 2018 Prize.
  • In 2018, the Prize was postponed by the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner, following the allegation on and the subsequent conviction of Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of academy member Katarina Frostenson, for rape.
  • The Nobel Prize comes with a medal and a prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor.
  • According to the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, the Prize is given to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. 
  • There have been 112 laureates to date, 15 of whom were women and 4 Prizes having been shared between two persons.


Nobel Peace Prize 2020

  • The World Food Programme won the Nobel Peace Prize 2020.
  • The World Food Programme, a United Nations body, is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security.
  • In 2019, WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries.
  • The World Food Programme has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace 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 award was also a call to the international community to fund the UN agency adequately and to ensure people were not starving.
  • One hundred Nobel peace prizes have been awarded since 1901, to individuals and 24 organisations. While the other Nobel prize laureates are announced in Stockholm, the peace prize is awarded in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
  • The prize comes with a 10m kronor (£870,000) cash award and a gold medal to be handed out at a ceremony in Oslo on 10 December, the anniversary of the prize founder, Alfred Nobel’s death.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize 2019 was awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”.

Facts about the Rome-based UN’s World Food Programme


  • Created in 1962 on the request of US President Dwight Eisenhower as an experiment to provide food aid through the UN system, WFP had only existed a few months when an earthquake struck northern Iran.
  • Others soon needed its help: a typhoon made landfall in Thailand; war refugees needed feeding in Algeria.
  • In 1963 WFP’s first school meals project was born. In 1965, the agency became a fully-fledged UN programme.
  • By 2019, it would come to assist 97 million people in 88 countries.
  • WFP says that on any given day it has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move. It distributes over 15 billion rations of food yearly.


  • WFP focuses on emergency assistance as well as rehabilitation and development aid. Two-thirds of its work is in conflict-affected countries, where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than elsewhere.
  • It works closely with the other two Rome-based UN agencies:
  • the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which helps countries draw up policy and change legislation to support sustainable agriculture, and
  • the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which finances projects in poor rural areas.
  • WFP is funded entirely by voluntary donations, most of which comes from governments.

Nobel Prize In Economics

  • The Nobel prize for economics was awarded to two US game theory specialists, 26 years after John Nash – the Princeton academic depicted by Russell Crowe in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind – won for his groundbreaking work on the same subject.
  • Americans Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson won for the designs of mathematical models that promote “improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats.
  • The discoveries of Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson “have benefitted sellers, buyers and taxpayers around the world.
  • The auction formats developed by the winners have been used to sell radio frequencies, fishing quotas and airport landing slots.
  • Auction theory, which is a branch of game theory, was developed during the late 1970s and early 1980s
  • after a group of researchers set about building mathematical models
  • that could introduce incentives and information into the auction bidding process
  • to maintain a fair market and prevent collusion among the bidders.
  • John Nash developed the Nash equilibrium to analyse situations of conflict and co-operation and produce predictions about how people will behave.
  • Nash’s famous equilibrium has found application in fields as diverse as computing, evolutionary biology and artificial intelligence.
  • The award, which comes with 10m krona (£850,000) cash prize and a gold medal, caps a week of Nobel prizes and is technically known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.
  • Since its establishment in 1969, it has been awarded 51 times and is widely considered one of the Nobel prizes.
  • Last year’s award went to two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a third from Harvard University for pioneering on-the-ground experiments to discover the most effective ways to tackle poverty in the developing world.
  • There was speculation ahead of the award that American Claudia Goldin, whose research has focused on inequality and the female labour force, would become the third woman to receive the prize.