THE 2021 NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS

It’s that time of the year again! On 5th October 2021, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics “for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems”. One half of it was jointly awarded to Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University and Klaus Hasselman of Max Planck Institute for Meteorology “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming”.

The other half was awarded to Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome “to discover the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.” Besides complex systems, one can see the focus on climate change in this year’s prize. Thors Hans Hasson, a physicist at Stockholm University and chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said that the focus on climate change was intended for world leaders who haven’t got the message yet. He remarked, “What we are saying is that the modelling of climate is solidly based in physical theory and well-known physics”.

Giorgio Parisi, the sixth Italian to win the Physics Nobel Prize, has worked in areas such as condensed matter, fundamental particles, statistical physics and disordered materials. He discovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials. The study of complex systems has a wide range of applications from neuroscience to machine learning to, as we see this year, Earth’s climate.

Syukuro Manabe played a vital role in the 20th century in developing reliable climate models. In the 1960s, he led the development of physical models of Earth’s climate. He was the first to explore the interaction between the radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses. Klaus Hasselman played a pivotal role in laying the foundations by proving that climate change is real and human activity is driving it. He developed models that accounted for weather (which changes quickly) as noise in studying climate (which is long term). This was important in establishing that climate models can be reliable despite the weather being chaotic. He was among the first to identify the human fingerprints of global warming, which includes greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.

These laureates stand as an example of the exemplary and rigorous practice of science, which should undoubtedly be acknowledged by people and governments worldwide.

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