The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for major discoveries in black hole physics that are now mostly old news. Past awards are listed here.
Penrose (who is still a leader in theoretical general relativity) won half for drawing the theoretical conclusion that black holes existed (subsequently born out by observations) from the equations of GR in 1965. Einstein didn't think that this conclusion could possibly be correct. Stephen Hawking was a collaborator with Roger Penrose on this work, but you have to be alive to qualify for the Nobel Prize and Hawking recently died.
Genzel and Ghez won for finding the black hole at the center of the Milky Way in the early 1990s.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 with one half to Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity” and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany and University of California, Berkeley, USA and Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles, USA “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy”.Roger Penrose used ingenious mathematical methods in his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really exist, these super-heavyweight monsters that capture everything that enters them. Nothing can escape, not even light.In January 1965, ten years after Einstein’s death, Roger Penrose proved that black holes really can form and described them in detail; at their heart, black holes hide a singularity in which all the known laws of nature cease. His groundbreaking article is still regarded as the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein.Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez each lead a group of astronomers that, since the early 1990s, has focused on a region called Sagittarius A* at the centre of our galaxy. The orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the Milky Way have been mapped with increasing precision. The measurements of these two groups agree, with both finding an extremely heavy, invisible object that pulls on the jumble of stars, causing them to rush around at dizzying speeds. Around four million solar masses are packed together in a region no larger than our solar system.Using the world’s largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the centre of the Milky Way. Stretching the limits of technology, they refined new techniques to compensate for distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, building unique instruments and committing themselves to long-term research. Their pioneering work has given us the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to two women who, working together, developed CRISPR, the first and most important true gene editing technique, in 2011-2012. Past awards are listed here.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 to Emmanuelle Charpentier Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin, Germany and Jennifer A. Doudna University of California, Berkeley, USA “for the development of a method for genome editing”Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, 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 may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.Researchers need to modify genes in cells if they are to find out about life’s inner workings. This used to be time-consuming, difficult and sometimes impossible work. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change the code of life over the course of a few weeks.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.As so often in science, the discovery of these genetic scissors was unexpected. During Emmanuelle Charpentier’s studies of Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the bacteria that cause the most harm to humanity, she discovered a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA. Her work showed that tracrRNA is part of bacteria’s ancient immune system, CRISPR/Cas, that disarms viruses by cleaving their DNA.Charpentier published her discovery in 2011. The same year, she initiated a collaboration with Jennifer Doudna, an experienced biochemist with vast knowledge of RNA. Together, they succeeded in recreating the bacteria’s genetic scissors in a test tube and simplifying the scissors’ molecular components so they were easier to use.In an epoch-making experiment, they then reprogrammed the genetic scissors. In their natural form, the scissors recognise DNA from viruses, but Charpentier and Doudna proved that they could be controlled so that they can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. Where the DNA is cut it is then easy to rewrite the code of life.Since Charpentier and Doudna discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012 their use has exploded. This tool has contributed to many important discoveries in basic research, and plant researchers have been able to develop crops that withstand mould, pests and drought. In medicine, clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway, and the dream of being able to cure inherited diseases is about to come true. These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.
The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for discovering the hepatitis C virus.
Drs. Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice on Monday received the prize for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus. The Nobel committee said the three scientists had “made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.”
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