Laureates are being awarded for advancement in the theory of black holes, food security, gene editing, and the discovery of hepatitis C

By Staff Writer Isaiah Hazelwood

The Nobel Prize has announced their 2020 Laureates. Celebrating groundbreaking research in identifying a new strand of Hepatitis, black holes, as well as humanitarian efforts towards food security, this year’s prizes award academic advances both old and new. 

Nobel Prizes are a group of prizes awarded for significant and lasting contributions, established by Alfred Nobel and awarded since 1901. Originally, there were five categories: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank created an additional award for the Economic Sciences, which has since been lumped alongside the original Nobel prize categories.

Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics was given to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, and Andrea Ghez for research into Black Holes. Penrose used Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, which describes how light, time, space, and gravity affect each other, to mathematically prove Black Holes would result from the theory. Einstein himself did not believe in the existence of blackholes, Pensrose’s groundbreaking 1965 paper explained how blackholes form and described them in unprecedented detail. His work is still regarded as “the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein” according to The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who awards the prize. Genzel and Ghez were astronomers observing the center of the galaxy who found stars rapidly moving around an extremely large invisible object – a supermassive Black Hole at the galaxy’s center.

Chemistry 

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic modification technique. The CRISPR system was discovered in bacteria, where it acts as a miniature immune system to prevent viruses from infecting the bacteria. Outside of bacteria, the CRISPR system gives researchers a faster and more efficient method to genetically modify any organism, opening new frontiers for research and disease treatment while also raising new bioethical questions on human genome editing. Their work has contributed to the development of more resilient crops, as well as clinical trials for new cancer therapies and genetic illnesses revolutionizing the practices of life science around the world.  

Physiology/Medicine

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was given to Harvey J. Alter, University of Alberta Professor Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis is the general term for liver inflammation and can cause liver scarring, liver failure, and liver cancer which takes over 1,000 lives a year in Canada alone. Hepatitis C is carried and transmitted in the blood and was identified over 3 stages each led by one prize recipient. Alter identified an unknown cause of Hepatitis in blood transfusions which failed to match the existing information on Hepatitis A and B, Houghton identified Hepatitis C proteins and DNA in chimpanzees with Hepatitis, and Rice demonstrated that Houghton’s proposed Hepatitis C DNA and proteins formed an infectious virus causing Hepatitis. Hepatitis is a virus of global concern, and Hep C’s transmission by blood is of particular importance for medical professionals worldwide. 

Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature was given to Louise Glück, an American poet whose extensive published works include Firstborn (1968), The Triumph of Achilles (1985), Ararat (1990), The Wild Iris (1992), Averno (2006), and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014). A professor at Yale University, Glück’s work is renowned for its emotional intensity, centring itself around themes of family relationships and childhood imbued with motifs from classical literature and poetry. She was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1993, as well as the National Book Award (2014), and Poet Laureate of the United States (2003-2004) amongst many other national and international accolades. 

Peace

The Nobel Peace Prize was given to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), a humanitarian organization addressing the problem of food security internationally. They operated in 88 countries in 2019, assisting 100 million people. Food insecurity is always strongly associated with instability and violence, so their efforts not only directly help keep the 135 million suffering from acute hunger alive but also help impoverished nations work toward becoming more stable and secure.

Economic Sciences

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences, awarded in memory of Alfred Nobel, given to Paul M. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson for the development of auction theory. Auctions are commonplace, from bidding for art at a gallery to bidding for items online, but the simple format of bidders negotiating for a price is surprisingly complex. How should the auctioneer price items so they’ll sell for the most, and how should people bid to make sure they get the item without overpaying? Milgrom and Wilson figured out the mathematically best auction designs and best bidding strategies, which they later applied to auction off radio frequencies to communication companies. An auction, where people bid on an item, has many variants: the item can be valued the same by every bidder, or each bidder may want it differently; the auction may be done by gradually raising the price, or by gradually lowering the price; some bidders may have more information on the other bidders’ willingness to pay. Milgrom and Wilson created auction designs to sell objects for more and models for bidding which maximized the chances of bidders obtaining the item without overpaying.

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