Nobel Prize Winners: First Up? Physics

October 9, 2020

Have you ever won an award for something you created, discovered, accomplished, or invented? Perhaps it was a blue ribbon at a science fair, a trophy at a dance competition, or a medal at a soccer game. These awards recognize the work that you’ve accomplished. Adults are awarded for their work too.

By UnknownUnknown author ([1][2]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1895, Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prize. This prize would be awarded to people who made a significant impact in the areas of chemistry, literature, peace, physics, and physiology or medicine. Today, there are six categories (the Nobel Prize in Economics was added in 1968) and prizes are awarded every year. Recently, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three people: Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, and Andrea Ghez, all of whom worked on proving Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. What is this theory and why is it so significant in discovering the ins and outs of our universe? Well, the theory of relativity suggests what happens with physical objects when there’s no gravity, as well as what happens to gravity in relation to other natural forces. Einstein’s theory suggested that things like black holes could exist in the universe—although he didn’t actually think they did. It wasn’t until after his death that Penrose used advanced mathematical models to prove that black holes can form and do exist in our universe. Years later, Genzel and Ghez, each led groups of astronomers in the monitoring of a region of the Milky Way galaxy called Sagittarius A*. Why Sagittarius A*? This is the area of the Milky Way galaxy where some of the brightest stars are located. While mapping and learning about this area, both Genzel’s and Ghez’s teams noticed that a strong pull was causing the cluster of stars to spin rapidly. Using incredibly powerful telescopes and other unique tools and instruments, Genzel and Ghez were able to discover something that had never been seen before: evidence of a black hole. Pretty awesome, right?

English: Event Horizon Telescope [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]
For their work, Penrose was awarded half of the prize money, and Genzel and Ghez split the other half. Wonder how much money is awarded to a Nobel Prize winner? Ten million Swedish Kronor or approximately $1.1 to $1.2 million.

Interesting Fact: Andrea Ghez is only the fourth woman to ever be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in its 117-year history. The first was Marie Curie in 1903. The second was Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963. The third was Donna Strickland in 2018.