Article | Physics

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics

12 October 2020 — Gabriel Stevens (4C)

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was split between two laureates for their contributions to the field of Astrophysics. Roger Penrose, one of the winners, earned his share of the award for "the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity". Whereas Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez received the award for their "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy". Both discoveries linked by their similar core topic about black holes one of the most complex topics in the whole of astrophysics.

The Nobel Prize is awarded annually in recognition of fundamental and substantial breakthroughs in various arears of human knowledge such as economics, literature and physics among others. These awards are open on an international level and are granted by Swedish and Norwegian institutions along with a large amount of prize money.

Roger Penrose

Sir Roger Penrose is a well-known British theoretical physicist who, up until recently, was most famous work was the production of proof showing how stars collapsed to form black holes in 1965. Penrose recently turned 89 and has been a fellow of the Royal Society since 1972. He born into a successful family his dad was a famous geneticist and his eldest brother is a famous theoretical physicist with his youngest brother being a chess grandmaster.

Considered as the founding father of quantum gravity he currently works at oxford university where he teaches mathematics. Sir Roger Penrose was able to utilize intricate mathematics to create direct proof for the existence of black holes in correspondence with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. This is an incredible breakthrough, given that it is common knowledge that Albert Einstein himself didn’t fully agree with the notion of black holes, and now the they have been defined with his own theory. For his major achievement in winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, Roger Penrose was awarded an honorary doctorate from oxford university, making him the 110th affiliate of the University of Cambridge to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez

Reinhard Genzel is a German astrophysicist who has been directing the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics since 1986, while Andrea Ghez is a female American astronomer who teaches in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the university of California.

Both lead separate teams of astronomers and united to attempt to research the rotational centre of our galaxy. Using the world’s largest telescope, they employed infrared wavelengths to image this specific region of our galaxy known as Sagittarius A*. With this method they were able to see through huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust, which usually blocks visible light for human observation, to observe Sagittarius A*. Another technique had to utilised to correct to distortion created by Earth’s atmosphere. The significant telescopes made it possible to produce high detailed and clear images, which help with the tracking of stars and black holes. The starts in the middle of our galaxy were measured to an immense precision and due to this this precise documentation, Ghez and Genzel managed to give the most conclusive data yet of there being a supermassive black hole at the centre of our universe, corresponding to other vaguer studies already concluded.

In conclusion both joint winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics received their share of the award for their groundbreaking research in the scientific field of astrophysics, concerning the study of black holes and supermassive objects. The results provided by both winners have helped us achieve a greater understanding of the topic and have inspired others to pursue this field of research.


Cover image is a composite of Sagittarius A* (Credit: A. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF); NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI) and Nobel Prize medal (Wikipedia).

Author(s): Gabriel Stevens (4C)
Editor: Andrea Grana
Team(s): Astrophysics Lab

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