The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics

As you have read, the 2020 Nobel Prize Physics was shared by:

Roger Penrose is one of the few science winners in recent years to be somewhat known to the general public. This is due to his books, notably:

You may think that at 89 he is one of the oldest to be awarded the Nobel Prize. However, there are at least three who were above 90 at the time of the award, including one from Physics:

(Scroll down) to see:

Also Andrea Ghez became only the fourth woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. The earlier instances were in 1903 (Marie Curie), 1963 (Maria Goeppert-Mayer) and 2018 (Donna Strickland).

Now for the Ig-Nobel prizes

You must have had enough of the Nobel Prizes. Now for something different.

There is one instance of someone winning an Ig-Nobel as well as a Nobel Prize-for more details look at the frog illustrated in the top right of the first link. (Read up on Andre Geim):

Go through the list of past winners. There are a few Indian names there. And many famous names like Dan Quayle,  Erich von Daniken and assorted financial fraudsters.

There is at lease one case of Indian scientists claiming to have received an Ig-Nobel Prize, although it does not seem to appear in the “official”  lists above. I am providing the link to give you an idea of what is required:

I can see how this would be useful in a place like Kerala. Any time you may be met by an elephant demanding to be painted blue or pink. Or gold, if it was from Thrissur. This way, you can quickly estimate how much paint is needed before the elephant gets impatient.

Probably many economists, politicians and other notables in present-day India have good chances of winning prizes in the near future.

One such award should go to the godman who claims he declined the Nobel Peace Prize. Anyone a little familiar with the workings of the awards will realize this is rubbish.

India and the Nobel prizes-a full history

This is probably the best reference from current Indian publications:

Nobel 2019 001

Even this is incomplete. Sir Ronald Ross won the 1902 prize for Physiology and Medicine, in only the second round of the Nobel awards which began in 1901. While he was clearly British, he was born in Almora in 1857 and lived in India until 1865. More to the point, he was working in India from 1881 to 1899 and the conclusion of his prize-winning research was conducted in Calcutta in 1898-99.

V. S. Naipaul should not be counted as Indian as he never resided in India. At most he visited India for a few months. His grandparents had migrated to Trinidad in the late 19th century.

Those whose prize-winning work was undoubtedly conducted in India were Sir Ronald Ross (mentioned above), Rabindranath Tagore (Literature, 1913), C. V. Raman (Physics, 1930), Mother Teresa (Peace, 1979) and Kailash Satyarthi (Peace, 2014).

The others. from Hargobind Khorana to Abhijit Banerjee all spent the bulk of their professional careers OUTSIDE India although they would have done their undergraduate and post-graduate degrees (in some cases) in India.

If one really wants to quibble, Tagore (born in Calcutta) did some of his writing in his family estates in places which later went to East Pakistan and Bangladesh. But these countries did not exist in his lifetime (1861-1941).

Also, Hargobind Khorana was born in Raipur village near Multan in 1922. That is now in Pakistani Punjab. He did his undergraduate and post-graduate degrees from Punjab University in Lahore, and first left India for academic purposes in 1945.

The next bit is typical:

“During a brief period in 1949, he was unable to find a job in his original home area in the Punjab.[9] He returned to England on a fellowship to work with George Wallace Kenner and Alexander R. Todd on peptides and nucleotides.[16] He stayed in Cambridge from 1950 until 1952. ” (from Wikipedia).

Also we can mention that Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar was born in Lahore in 1910, where his father worked in the accounts department of the North Western Railway. His family moved to Allahabad in 1916 and then to Madras in 1918, where he completed his graduation from Presidency College before moving to Cambridge.

Chandrashekhara Venkata Raman was born near Tiruchi in 1888. His schooling was in Visakhapatnam, and his undergraduate and post-graduate degrees were from Presidency College, Madras. He does not appear to have earned a PhD, though he was awarded several honorary doctorates later. More to the point, his entire professional career was in India, largely at the IISc in Bangalore since the 1930s. Admittedly his prize-winning work was at the Calcutta University as well as another organization in Calcutta called the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was born in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. His schooling was in Vadodara and undergraduate degree was from MS University there. He seems to have moved abroad after that.

The stories of Amartya Sen and Abhijeet Banerjee are better known, so I will not repeat them.

Similarly, we can run through the life histories of the other Nobel laureates which are roughly the same. What is important to note is that the only “indigenous” Nobel-winning scientific research by an Indian dates back to before 1930.

While Kailash Satyarthi‘s qualifications are not particularly relevant to his work, he had a degree in electrical engineering from a lesser-known college affiliated to Barkatullah University, Bhopal. He is also said to have a post-graduate degree in high voltage engineering, but the name of  that college is not mentioned in any of the standard sources.

Some more points to note: From South Asia, we also have Mohammad Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979) (born at Jhang in 1926, which is now in Pakistani Punjab). Like his near-contemporary  Khorana, he studied up to post-graduation at Punjab University in Lahore before moving abroad. He is described as having ancestors who were Jats of Rajput origin. Unfortunately, he was also an Ahmediya whom the Pakistan government does not recognize as Muslim.

And there is Muhammad Yunus (Peace, 2006) born at Hathazari near Chittagong in 1940. His graduation and post-graduation was from Dacca University. This was when it was still part of Pakistan. He later completed his PhD from the US but returned to Bangladesh soon after liberation. However, his prize-winning work was connected with his efforts with the Grameen Bank in later years and can thus be considered as a Bangladeshi effort (rather than the British or US efforts applicable to several others).

Apart from Calcutta University, the next most favorable universities for future Nobel winners were Madras University and Punjab University, Lahore with bit parts played by the universities of Dacca and Vadodara. Incidentally, older academics from Bengal will say that in the olden days Dacca University was the equal of Calcutta University.

Tail piece: (I have one grandparent from Punjab University’s medical college (c.1910) and one parent from a medical college of Calcutta University (c.1952)).

While I have a degree from Stanford, that doesn’t count for much. There must not be any Nobel laureate who did only an MS from there. (While on an internship, I did do some very minor work connected with publicizing the now-discredited Black-Scholes Model, which earned Robert Merton and Myron Scholes the Economics prize in 1997)