Nobel Prize in physics: 2019 winners made significant cosmological discoveries

William G. Kaelin Jr. talks to a reporter after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in Boston. Kaelin who teaches at Harvard will share the prize with Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for their discoveries of how cells sense

The first half of the award was given to Dr. James Peebles, a Canadian scientist at Princeton University, for his contributions to theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.

He shares the prize, valued at about $1.5-million, with Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, two Swiss researchers who were among the first to discover the planets beyond our solar system.

This year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded jointly to three scientists who figured out how cells sense and adapt to changes in levels of oxygen, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karlinska Institute announced this morning (Oct. 7).

"While James Peebles' theoretical discoveries contributed to our understanding of how the universe evolved after the Big Bang, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz explored our cosmic neighbourhoods on the hunt for unknown planets", the Nobel committee announced.

Using theoretical tools and calculations, Peebles was able to interpret trace radiation from the infancy of the universe and discover new physical processes, the Nobel academy said.

"This discovery revolutionized our understanding of planetary science, led to the discovery of thousands of exoplanets, and spurred the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe", said Gross. "That's what I did", he told reporters by telephone after the award announcement.

Born in St. Boniface before it became part of Winnipeg, Peebles completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Manitoba and said part of his childhood was spent building or taking apart thing such as the clocks in his family's home. "It's enormous. It's beyond usual emotions".

Past physics prize laureates include Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and James Chadwick, the discoverer of the neutron.

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Mayor noted that in 1995, "no one knew whether exoplanets existed or not".

The three winners will equally split the prize of 9 million Swedish kronor ($908,640 US).

Swedish academy member Mats Larsson said this year's was "one of the easiest physics prizes for a long time to explain".

Amazingly, much of this work took place before the idea of inflation (which describes the rapid early expansion of the Universe) had been fully developed; Peebles' incorporated newer information on inflation into his ideas as work in the area continued. The physics prize is handed out Tuesday and the following day is the chemistry prize.

The annual prizes for achievements in science, peace and literature have been awarded since 1901, and were created in the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. The last Nobel Prize awarded to a Penn affiliate was in 2011, when former professor Thomas Sargent was awarded the prize in economics.

Only three women have been received it so far: Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018, according to the Nobel website.

This year's Nobel prize season kicked off on Monday with the Medicine Prize awarded to Americans William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza, and Britain's Peter Ratcliffe.

The Peace Prize will be awarded in Oslo on Friday, with speculation rife that Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg could win for her campaign to raise awareness about climate change.

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