Nobel and other Prizes

Nobel Prize 2021


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Price, BioCatalysts

Mains level : NA

(1) Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences has been awarded in one half to Canadian-born David Card and the other half jointly to Israeli-American Joshua D Angrist and Dutch-American Guido W Imbens.

  • David Card has been awarded for his empirical contributions to labor economics. Joshua D Angrist and Guido W Imbens won the award “for their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.”
  • The 2020 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Paul R Milgrom and Robert B Wilson “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats”.


  • David Card: He has analyzed how minimum wages, immigration and education impact the labor market.
    • One of the significant findings of this research was that“increasing the minimum wage does not necessarily lead to fewer jobs”.
    • It also led to the understanding that“people who were born in a country can benefit from new immigration, while people who immigrated at an earlier time risk being negatively affected”.
    • It also illuminated the role of resources available in school in shaping the future of students in the labor market.
  • Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens: They were rewarded for their “methodological contributions” to the research tool.
    • Their work demonstrated “how precise conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments”.

 (2) Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David MacMillan for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.

  • Last year, the honour went to Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna, for developing the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 – DNA snipping “scissors”.

About the Development

  • They have developed a new and ingenious tool for molecule building: organocatalysis.
    • Many research areas and industries are dependent on chemists’ ability to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of diseases. This work requires catalysts.
    • According to researchers, there were just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. Catalysts are any substance that increases the rate of a reaction without itself being consumed.
  • In 2000, they, independent of each other, developed a third type of catalysis. It is called asymmetric organocatalysis and builds upon small organic molecules.
  • Significance:
    • Its uses include research into new pharmaceuticals and it has also helped make chemistry greener.
    • Both these sets of catalysts (metals and enzymes) had limitations.
    • Heavier metals are expensive, difficult to mine, and toxic to humans and the environment.
      • Despite the best processes, traces remained in the end product; this posed problems in situations where compounds of very high purity were required, like in the manufacture of medicines.
      • Also, metals required an environment free of water and oxygen, which was difficult to ensure on an industrial scale.
    • Enzymes on the other hand, work best when water is used as a medium for the chemical reaction. But that is not an environment suitable for all kinds of chemical reactions.


    • Organic compounds are mostly naturally-occurring substances, built around a framework of carbon atoms and usually containing hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, or phosphorus.
    • Life-supporting chemicals like proteins, which are long chains of amino acids (carbon compounds containing nitrogen and oxygen) are organic.
    • Enzymes are also proteins, and therefore, organic compounds. These are responsible for many essential biochemical reactions.
    • Organocatalysts allow several steps in a production process to be performed in an unbroken sequence, considerably reducing waste in chemical manufacturing.
    • Organocatalysis has developed at an astounding speed since 2000. Benjamin List and David MacMillan remain leaders in the field, and have shown that organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions.
      • Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.

Asymmetric Organocatalysis

    • The process called asymmetric organocatalysis has made it much easier to produce asymmetric molecules – chemicals that exist in two versions, where one is a mirror image of the other.
    • Chemists often just want one of these mirror images – particularly when producing medicines – but it has been difficult to find efficient methods for doing this.
    • Some molecules with mirror versions have different properties. An example is the chemical called carvone, which has one form that smells like spearmint and a counterpart that smells like the herb, dill.
    • Different versions of the same molecule might have different effects when ingested. Then it becomes important to be able to make only the mirror image of a drug that has the desired physiological effect.

(3) Nobel Prize in Physics, 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded with one half jointly to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and the other half to Giorgio Parisi “for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.”

  • This is the first time climate scientists (Manabe and Hasselmann) have been awarded the Physics Nobel. Last year, the award was given for the research into black holes.

Manabe and Hasselmann

  • Awarded for work in physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.
  • Demonstrated how increases in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase global temperatures, laying the foundations for current climate models.


  • Awarded for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”
  • He “built a deep physical and mathematical model” that made it possible to understand complex systems in fields such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning.

(4) Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine, 2021

Recently, two United States-based scientists, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

  • They have focused their work on the field of somatosensation, that is the ability of specialized organs such as eyes, ears and skin to see, hear and feel.

About the Discoveries

David Julius:

  • He discovered TRPV1, a heat-sensing receptor.
  • His findings on the skin’s sense of temperature was based on how certain cells react to capsaicin, the molecule that makes chili peppers spicy, by simulating a false sensation of heat.

Ardem Patapoutian

  • He discovered two mechanosensitive ion channels known as the Piezo channels.
    • The Piezo1 is named after the Greek word for pressure, ‘píesi’.
  • He is credited for finding the cellular mechanism and the underlying gene that translates a mechanical force on our skin into an electric nerve signal.

Significance of Discoveries

    • The findings have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us.
    • This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.

Back To Basics: About Nobel Prizes

  • The will of the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel established the five Nobel prizes in 1895.
  • The Nobel Prizes are a set of recognition given to fields of Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine by The Nobel Foundation.
    • The Nobel Foundation is a private institution established in 1900, has ultimate responsibility for fulfilling the intentions in Alfred Nobel’s will.
  • The prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were first awarded in 1901.
  • In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.


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