Nobel Prize in Physics 2020

Nobel Prize in Physics 2020


The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 has been awarded with one half to

  • Sir Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK

“for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity”
and the other half jointly to

  • Reinhard Genzel, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany, and University of California, Berkeley, USA, and
  • Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

“for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”




The Laureates receive the prize for their discoveries about black holes. Black holes are exotic phenomena in the universe—regions of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape, not even light. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole.

Roger Penrose proved that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein did not believe that black holes really exist, but in 1965, Roger Penrose proved that black holes can form and described them in detail. He tackled the problem with a new mathematical concept, called “trapped surfaces”. A trapped surface forces all rays to point towards a center. Using this concept, Penrose proved that a black hole always hides a singularity, where the known laws of nature do not apply anymore. Penrose’s ground-breaking work is regarded as the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the center of our galaxy. The researchers focused on a region called Sagittarius A* at the center of our galaxy. Using the world’s largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the center of the Milky Way, and they precisely mapped the orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the galaxy. Both researcher’s teams found evidence for an extremely heavy, invisible object that pulls on these stars, causing them to rush around at dizzying speeds. A supermassive black hole is the only currently known explanation. Around four million solar masses are packed together in a region no larger than our solar system.




Roger Penrose, born in Colchester, UK, on 8 August 1931, studied mathematics first at the University College London, UK, and gained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, UK, in 1957. First, he was an Assistant Lecturer at Bedford College, London, UK, then moved to St. John’s College Cambridge, UK, as a Research Fellow. From 1959 to 1961, he worked in the USA at Princeton University, NJ, and Syracuse University, NY, then from 1961 to 1963 at King’s College in Cambridge, UK, and from 1963/64 as a visiting professor at the University of Texas, Austin, USA. In 1964, he became a reader at Birkbeck College in London, UK, and in 1966 a professor of applied mathematics there.

Roger Penrose was Rouse Ball Professor at Oxford University from 1973 to 1998. He then became a Professor of Geometry at Gresham College in London.

Among many other awards, he received the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1988, the Albert Einstein Medal in 1990, the Naylor Prize of the London Mathematical Society, the De Morgan Medal in 2004, the Clay Award for Dissemination in 2018 and the Erasmus Medal in 2020. From 1992 to 1995 he served as President of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation. In 1994, Penrose was knighted for services to science. In 2000 he was appointed to the Order of Merit.

Reinhard Genzel, born 1952 in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, Germany, studied physics at the University of Freiburg and the University of Bonn, both Germany, where he gained his Ph.D. in 1978. He then worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA, USA, was a Miller Fellow from 1980 until 1982, and an Associate and Full Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, from 1981. He became a Scientific Member of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in 1986, director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and lectured at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany. Here, he has been an honorary Professor since 1988. Since 1999, he has also a joint appointment as a Full Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.

Among many other awards, he received the Otto Hahn Medal of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in 1980, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in 1990, the Stern Gerlach Medal for experimental physics of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG) in 2003, the Albert Einstein Medal in 2007, the Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy in 2012, and the Tycho Brahe Prize of the European Astronomical Society in 2012.

Andrea Ghez, born 1965 in New York City, NY, USA, studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, and gained her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, USA, in 1992. In 1992/93, she was a postdoctoral fellow and Hubble Research Fellow at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona, USA. In 1994, she became an Assistant Professor, in 1997 an Associate Professor, and since 2000, she is a Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA.

Among many other awards, she received the Annie-Jump-Cannon Award for Astronomy in 1994, the Sackler Award for physics in 2004, and the Crafoord Award in 2012.



Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the award ceremony this year will be held via telephone conference on December 10, 2020. The banquet, which usually takes place in Stockholm, Sweden, in December, has been moved to 2021.


Selected Publications by Roger Penrose

Selected Publications by Reinhard Genzel

Selected Publications by Andrea Ghez

Also of Interest



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