Nobel Prize for Physics 2021 goes to three scientists studying complex systems

By Satyen Mohapatra

The Nobel Prize for Physics for the year 2021 is being shared among a few people — one half has gone to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Haselmann. The other Georgio Parisi for their work on complex systems.

All complex systems consist of many different interacting parts. They have been studied by physicists for a couple of centuries, and can be difficult to describe mathematically. They could have an enormous number of components or be governed by chance. They could also be chaotic, like the weather, where small deviations in initial values result in huge differences at a later stage. This year’s Laureates have all contributed to us gaining greater knowledge of such systems and their long-term development, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The prizes were announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today “for ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.”

This time around Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, USA and Klaus Haselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany have earned the accolade “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.”

The prize has gone to Georgio Parisi of Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, “for the discovery of the interplay of the disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”
According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences the three Laureates shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their studies of chaotic and apparently random phenomena.

Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it. Giorgio Parisi was rewarded for his revolutionary contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes.

Manabe was born in 1931 in Shingu, Japan. He got his doctorate in 1957 from University of Tokyo. He is senior Meteorologist at Princeton University , USA.

He demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to increased temperatures at the surface of the Earth. In the 1960s, he led the development of physical models of the Earth’s climate and was the first person to explore the interaction between radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses. His work laid the foundation for the development of current climate models.

Born in 1931 in Hamburg, Germany, Hasselmann did his doctorate from University of Gottingen, Germany. He is a Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany.

He created a model that links together weather and climate, thus answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic. He also developed methods for identifying specific signals, fingerprints, that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in the climate. His methods have been used to prove that the increased temperature in the atmosphere is due to the human emissions of carbon dioxide.

Giorgio Parisi was born in the year 1948 in Rome, Italy. He did his doctorate from Sapienza University in Rome, Italy and is a Professor at the same institution.

Around 1980, Giorgio Parisi discovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials. His discoveries are among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems. They make it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random materials and phenomena. That too, not only in physics but also in other, very different areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience, and machine learning.

The chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics Thors Hans Hansson said, “The discoveries being recognised this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations. This year’s Laureates have all contributed to us gaining deeper insight into the properties and evolution of complex physical system.”

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded 115 times to 219 Nobel Prize laureates between 1901 and 2021. John Bardeen is the only laureate who has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics twice, in 1956 and 1972.

The youngest Nobel Prize laureate in physics is Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize together with his father in 1915. The oldest Nobel Prize laureate in physics to date is Arthur Ashkin who was 96 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018.

There are only four women who got the Nobel Prize for Physics so far. They are Marie Curie, Maria Coeppert-Mayer, Donna Strickland and Andrea Ghez. Curie got Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and for Chemistry in 1911.