Nobel Prizes 2021 – Explained, pointwise

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Recently, the Nobel Prize 2021 has been announced in various fields. This year’s Nobel Prize highlighted a few significant developments and research around the globe. For instance, Research on wages and jobs, discoveries of human receptors for temperature and touch, etc.

This article is a summary of this year’s Nobel Prizes and their significance.

About the Nobel Prize

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in Stockholm, Sweden in 1901 on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel. Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and other high explosives.  

Originally, the prize was awarded in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. Later in 1968, a sixth prize was added in the field of economic sciences, but it is not officially called Nobel Prize (Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences).

Prizes may be given only to individuals, except the Peace Prize, which may also be conferred upon an institution. However, 3 individuals at max, can share a prize.

Click here to read more about other facts about Nobel Prize
About Nobel Prizes 2021
Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, 2021

Nobel prize in Physiology

The 2021 Nobel for Physiology (or Medicine) went to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their “discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch”.

Artificial sensors like thermometers are very common temperature sensors that can perceive changes in temperature. Similarly, in the human body, there are sensors to sense. However, only very specific proteins molecules relay these signals to the nervous system.

David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have discovered the molecular sensors in the human body that are sensitive to heat, and to mechanical pressure. They found those heat receptors open up a passage for specific chemicals, like calcium ions, through the membrane of nerve cells.

These findings opened up “an entire field of pharmacology”. The identification of these receptors opens up the possibility of regulating their functioning. Researchers are already working to develop drugs to target the receptors they identified. 

For example, there are receptors that make us feel pain, if these receptors can be suppressed or made less effective, the person would feel less pain. 

Read moreExplained: Nobel Prize in Medicine 2021
Nobel Prize in Physics, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics went to a trio who created weather system models and found ways to spot patterns, and make predictions about weather and climate.

Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hassel­mann were awarded half the prize money “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming”.

Physics Nobel
Source: Indian Express

The other half went to Giorgio Parisi “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales”.

Read moreNobel Prize for Physics Goes to 3 for Climate Discoveries
Nobel Prize in Chem­istry, 2021

The 2021 Chem­istry Nobel went to Benjamin List and David MacMillan for their “development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis”.

Catalysts are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions, without becoming part of the final product. For example, catalysts in cars transform toxic substances in exhaust fumes into harmless molecules. 

In the past, it was believed that there are just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. Now, there is a third type of catalyst i.e., asymmetric organocatalysis.

These new catalysts are thus fundamental tools for chemists for research. Further, these catalysts are more friendly to the environment and cheaper to produce 

Read moreNobel Prize in Chemistry 2021
Nobel Prize in Literature, 2021

This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to “Abdulrazak Gurnah”. He became the fifth African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He is the author of 10 novels and several short stories and essays. These include “Desertion” and “Paradise”(shortlisted for the Booker prize). The Theme of his works mostly dealt with ‘immigrant experience and how exile and loss, shape identities and cultures’.

Read more: Explained: Importance of Nobel winner Abdulrazak Gurnah’s writing in highlighting the refugee experience
Nobel Peace Prize 2021

Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia received the Nobel Prize for Peace “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression”.

An investigative journalist, Ressa in 2012 co-founded Rappler, a digital media platform for investigative journalism, which she continues to head. Ressa and Rappler have documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents, and manipulate public discourse.

The Nobel Committee said Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. Five years after Muratov left the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, he along with around 50 colleagues started Novaja Gazeta in 1993, as one of its founders. He has served as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief since 1995.

Read more: 2 journalists battling for freedom of expression awarded peace Nobel
Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences, 2021

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics to three US-based economists: David Card, Joshua D. Angrist and Guido W. Imbens.

David Card studied the relationship between the minimum wage and employment in the early 1990s. His research showed that the minimum wage increase had no downward effect on the number of employees.

Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
Source: Indian Express

Angrist and Imbens won the other half of the award for their work on education and pay. ​​The duo solved a methodological problem and demonstrated how precise conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments.

Read more: Explained: Top prize for labour economics
Highlights of Nobel Prizes 2021

The physics and chemistry awards this year clearly highlighted environmental concerns.  For instance, This is the first time climate scientists (Manabe and Hasselmann) have been awarded the Physics Nobel.

Note: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had won the Peace Nobel in 2007, an acknowledgement of its efforts in creating awareness for the fight against climate change.

In 1995, Paul Crutzen has won a Chemistry Nobel for his work on the ozone layer.

This would probably help in further mainstreaming climate science. Apart from that, it will also convince people and governments, that are not convinced of the reality of the interconnectedness of anthropogenic activities and climate change. 

The physiology award was given to a very elegant work that opened up a new understanding of biological sensory apparatus and nervous systems.

The Literature Nobel came at a time when the global refugee crisis is exponentially on the rise, Gurnah’s work draws attention to how racism and prejudice against targeted communities and religions perpetuate cultures of oppression. 

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences has helped to formulate policies that are bottom-up (as opposed to top-down approaches). Further, they provide robust evidence that is less contestable.

This is the first Nobel Peace Prize for journalists since the German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935.

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