Nobels start with a double triple

The start of Nobel Prize week in 2020 has been very much a shared experience.

Last night, Australian time, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that three Laureates would share this year’s prize in Physics for their discoveries about one of the most exotic phenomena in the Universe, the black hole.

This follows Monday’s announcement that the prize in Physiology or Medicine had been awarded jointly to three scientists who have made a decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis.

Both announcements were made at online ceremonies, as the world’s most prestigious science awards adjusted to the reality of a global pandemic.

One half of the Physics prize was awarded to Roger Penrose from the University of Oxford, UK, and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel from Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Germany, and University of California, Berkeley, US, and Andrea Ghez, from the University of California, Los Angeles, US.

Penrose showed that the general theory of relativity leads to the formation of black holes. Genzel and Ghez discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy. 

“The discoveries of this year’s Laureates have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects,” says David Haviland, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, in a statement. 

“But these exotic objects still pose many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research. Not only questions about their inner structure, but also questions about how to test our theory of gravity under the extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole.”

Full details can be found on the Nobel Prize website.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Harvey J Alter (National Institutes of Health, US), Michael Houghton (University of Alberta, Canada) and Charles M Rice (Rockefeller University, US) for “seminal discoveries” that led to the identification of a novel virus, Hepatitis C. 

Prior to their work, the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward, but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained. The discovery of Hepatitis C virus revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.

You can read more about the research here.

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded 114 times since 1901, with 35 shared between three Laureates. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded 111 times, with 39 shared three ways.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be awarded on Wednesday. All ceremonies are being shown live on the Nobel Prize website.

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