top of page
  • Raghav Sand

Nobel Prize 2020: Physiology / Medicine and Physics

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice “for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus”. Their contribution has led the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world.

Pioneering discoveries by the trio led to the identification of a novel virus, Hepatitis C virus. Even after discovery of Hepatitis A and B viruses majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained. The discovery of Hepatitis C virus solved remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved many lives.

Hepatitis – A Global Menace

Liver inflammation, or hepatitis, is mainly caused by viral infections. In some cases alcohol abuse, environmental toxins and autoimmune disease are also important causes. Examples of the common autoimmune diseases are Type 1 diabetes and Rheumatoid arthritis. Hepatitis A, is transmitted by polluted water or food and generally has little long-term impact on the patient. Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids and represents a much more serious threat since it can lead to a chronic condition, with the development of cirrhosis and liver cancer. It may take many years before the complications from blood-borne hepatitis come to the fore.

Viral hepatitis

Summary of discoveries

The methodical studies of transfusion-associated hepatitis by Harvey J. Alter demonstrated that an unknown virus was a common cause of chronic hepatitis. Michael Houghton used an untested strategy to isolate the genome of the new virus that was named Hepatitis C virus. Charles M. Rice provided the final evidence showing that Hepatitis C virus alone could cause hepatitis.

Summary of the discoveries

Black Hole: An exotic phenomenon

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 is divided, one half awarded to Roger Penrose “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity”, the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”

Graphic illustration of the Black Hole

Roger Penrose used inventive mathematical methods in his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really exist. Black holes capture everything that enters them and nothing can escape, not even light.

In January 1965, ten years after Einstein’s death, Roger Penrose proved that black holes really can form and described them in detail; at their heart, black holes hide a singularity in which all the known laws of nature cease. His radical article is still regarded as the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez each lead a group of astronomers that, since the early 1990s, has focused on a region called Sagittarius A* at the centre of our galaxy. The orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the Milky Way have been mapped with increasing precision. The measurements of these two groups agree, with both finding an extremely heavy, invisible object that pulls on the jumble of stars, causing them to rush around at dizzying speeds. Using the world’s largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the centre of the Milky Way.

2020 Nobel announcements

After the announcement of prizes in the category of Medicine and Physics, the following dates have been earmarked for respective remaining categories.

Chemistry – Wednesday 7 October Literature – Thursday 8 October Peace – Friday 9 October Economic Sciences – Monday 12 October

bottom of page