Oct. 12, 2021 — This past week, the Nobel Assembly and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the 2021 Nobel Prize recipients. Among the prize recipients in physiology or medicine, physics, and economic sciences are researchers who have been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
“We extend our congratulations to all the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prizes for their bold thinking and transformative discoveries,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “For 70 years, NSF’s investments in exploratory research have expanded the frontiers of knowledge and technology and supported both foundational, curiosity-driven, discovery-oriented research and use-inspired, solutions-oriented work. The impact of our support is reflected by the 253 NSF-funded Nobel Prize winners. As we adapt to the nation’s changing needs, NSF will always remain dedicated to our core mission of investing in the whole range of fundamental science and engineering and STEM education. As stewards of the public trust, we can help secure that future by supporting tomorrow’s Nobel laureates today.”
Below are this year’s winners and a summary of their achievements as well as a description of the research NSF helped to support.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
David Julius, University of California, San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian, Scripps Research of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.”
Understanding how organisms sense and respond to stimuli – specifically heat – is critical in harnessing these responses and mitigating them when needed, such as in the case of chronic pain. Gaining this knowledge requires fundamental research across different organisms that can lead to translational impacts in biotechnology and biomedicine. NSF is proud to have recognized the importance and potential power of David Julius’ research with a Presidential Young Investigators award in 1990.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics
Syukuro Manabe, Princeton University, and Klaus Hasselmann, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany, “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming,” and Giorgio Parisi, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”
Making sense of systems that function from randomness and disorder is not only a challenge, but also essential for understanding some of the most important phenomena of the world. Manabe developed the first-of-its-kind general circulation climate model that combined both oceanic and atmospheric processes that paved the way for the critical work of limiting the impact of human-caused climate change. NSF is proud to have supported Manabe’s research on large-scale atmospheric circulation in the early 1980s through awards at Princeton University.
The 2021 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel
David Card, University of California, Berkeley, “for his empirical contributions to labor economics;” and Joshua D. Angrist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Guido W. Imbens, Stanford University “for their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships”
Understanding the complex — and oftentimes counterintuitive — cause and effect relationships between changing aspects of our society and economy is a critical need for policy makers and other leaders. The collective discoveries of Card, Angrist and Imbens, along with contributions by Card’s colleague Alan Krueger who died in 2019, showed how cause and effect can be accurately determined when it is not feasible or ethical to conduct a controlled experiment. They used “natural experiments” — large-scale situations arising in real life — to precisely understand how one thing causes another, such as how income affects health, how wages affect unemployment and how investments in schools affect the future earnings of students. Their methods have been widely adopted and applied by researchers studying a range of important social and economic issues. NSF is proud to have supported all three winners and their groundbreaking work.
See the full statement on nsf.gov.
The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.