The Nobel Prize in Physics rewards work on complex systems, such as the climate

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Japanese-American Syukuro Manabe, German Klaus Hasselmann and Italian Giorgio Parisi won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for work that helps understand complex physical systems, such as Earth’s climate change.

Manabe and Hasselmann were jointly awarded for physical climate modeling, “quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming”.

Parisi received the other half of the prize “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic scale to planetary scale”.

The general theme that connected the divided prize was disorder and fluctuation, and how together they help scientists predict events, said Thors Hans Hansson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

“We can predict what’s going on with the climate in the future if we know how to code chaotic weather,” he said.

Syukuro Manabe. AP file

Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, demonstrated how increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to higher temperatures.

His work in the 1960s led to the development of physical models of Earth’s climate, and his work laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.

About a decade later, Hasselmann, a researcher in climate dynamics and professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany, has created a model that links weather and climate – answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite changing and chaotic weather conditions.

Parisi, professor of theoretical physics at the Sapienza University in Rome, discovered patterns hidden in complex messy materials. His discoveries have helped to understand phenomena in fields such as physics, biology and neuroscience.

Klaus Hasselmann. Fabien Bimmer / Reuters

The link between the work of Parisi and Manabe is Hasselmann’s recognition that fluctuations are the key to predictability, said John Wettlaufer, member of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

After the announcement, Parisi was asked if he had a message ahead of the COP-26 climate change conference in Britain which begins on October 31. He said it was “very urgent that we take very serious decisions. [at] a very sustained pace ”in the fight against climate change.

“It is clear to the next generation that we have to act very quickly now,” he said.

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The winners were announced to reporters on Tuesday by Göran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in Stockholm.

When asked if the committee hoped to send a message to world leaders about the severity of the climate crisis, Hansson replied, “The notion of global warming is based on solid science: this is the message.

The prestigious award was created by the Swedish inventor and entrepreneur Alfred Nobel which stipulated in his will that most of his estate was to be converted into funds and invested. The income from the investments should then be distributed annually, in the form of prizes, “to those who in the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”

Giorgio Parisi. Panico / Fotogramma / Zuma Press

The physics prize is accompanied by a medal representing Nature in the form of a goddess resembling Isis, emerging from the clouds and holding in her arms a cornucopia. She wears a veil backed by the “Genius of Science”.

The prize also comes with 10 million Swedish kronor in prize money (over $ 1.1 million).

The Physics Prize was awarded 114 times to 215 people between 1901 and 2020.

Last year, three scientists won the award for their groundbreaking research into black holes, space-time phenomena that have long consumed the imaginations of scientists and fiction writers.

Other notable past winners include Albert Einstein who received the Physics Prize in 1921, and Pierre and Marie Curie who won in 1903.

On Monday, the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to American scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors that allow humans to feel temperature and touch.

“It really opens up one of nature’s secrets in terms of being one of our senses,” said Thomas perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Assembly and of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine.

Prizes for chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced in the coming days.


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