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World can't progress without ability to think, quiz

World can’t progress without ability to think, quiz
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World can’t progress without ability to think, quiz

Highlights

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to scientists Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their discoveries about black holes

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to scientists Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their discoveries about black holes. Göran K Hansson, secretary for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said at the ceremony in Stockholm that this year's prize was about "the darkest secrets of the universe."

Penrose, a professor at the University of Oxford who worked with Stephen Hawking, was awarded half of the prize "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity." The other half was awarded jointly to Genzel and Ghez "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy."

Two things stand out here. The Nobel Committee honoured Professor Stephen Hawking indirectly and equally in mentioning "the Nobel legacy stipends that the committee cannot award posthumously. Professor Hawking's contributions are mentioned in the Nobel's scientific backgrounder in both the Penrose and Genzel-Ghez sections, giving a 'nod' to the British physicist. The second point is the reaction of Prof Ghez to the announcement that the honour made her feel more passionate about the teaching side of her job than ever.

In addition, she said the prize was even more significant "because it's so important to convince the younger generation that their ability to question, and their ability to think, is just crucial to the future of the world." Penrose, born in Colchester in England, worked with fellow physicist Hawking to merge Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum theory to suggest that space and time would begin with the Big Bang and end in black holes.

While Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts the existence of black holes, Einstein did not himself believe they really existed. Penrose was the first to prove mathematically, in 1965, that they are a natural consequence of relativity theory and not just science fiction, working in the shadows of Stephen Hawking. Genzel, born in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, Germany, is director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Genzel and Ghez discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy. A supermassive black hole is the only currently known explanation. Similarly, this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to two scientists who transformed an obscure bacterial immune mechanism, commonly called CRISPR, into a tool that can simply and cheaply edit the genomes of everything from wheat to mosquitoes to humans.

The award went jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens and Jennifer Doudna of University of California, Berkeley, "for the development of a method for genome editing." They first showed that CRISPR — which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — could edit DNA in an in vitro system in a paper published in the 28 June 2012 issue of Science.

The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionised the life sciences. The genetic scissors were discovered eight years ago but have already benefited humankind greatly. As Prof Ghez stated what is important is the ability to question and the ability to think.

World does not progress without the ability to think and question. For that matter no institution thrives if questioning is banned. Once we start suspecting the credentials of those questioning, we go back to the medieval ages. Right?

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