I cannot think of any other mathematician to get a Nobel. The closest I can think of is Eugene Wigner, who did foundational work on group representations in quantum mechanics.
Perhaps they were eager to give another black hole prize, or to have another female co-winner, I don't know.
Usually prizes are not given to astronomers either. Last year, Peebles shared a prize for some theoretical cosmology work. Maybe that was a signal that attitudes have shifted.
I do think that Penrose's contributions to physics are much greater than most of the Nobel prizes. Congratulations to him.
Most of the articles about this year's prize talk about Einstein a lot, even tho:
“Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really exist, these super-heavyweight monsters that capture everything that enters them,” the Nobel Committee said. “Nothing can escape, not even light.”Karl Schwarzschild discovered the black hole equations in 1916. It appears that it was not understood mathematically until decades later. That is, only later did they figure that there was an event horizon dividing the interior from the exterion, and that there was no metric singularity there.
After a few more decades, astronomical evidence of black holes was found, and now gravititational waves from collisions have been observed. A Nobel was given for that in 2017, so now 3 of the last 4 years have had Nobels going to cosmologists and astronomers.
Update: Here is the Nobel citation, which nicely explains the history of work related to this year's prize. A footnote makes reference to Einstein not getting the prize for general relativity. It is ambiguous whether Hawking would have gotten a share, had he still been alive. It does credit Penrose with first changing physicist thinking about black holes.
I've always thought of Penrose as one of the finest thinkers of our times.
I also remember toying with the idea of whether he should and would get a *physics* *Nobel* or not. I thought that he would rather not. I also thought that his position as one of the finest thinkers was still secure, though there was scope to highlight it in other ways.
Though I don't know the relativity theory, from what I gather, I should think that his work on the black-holes should be a great intellectual achievement. (I've read through the official advanced document of the Nobel prize.)
But I also think that any such a piece of work being regarded as a *discovery* of *physics* makes for, strictly speaking, a *borderline* case. I won't call it an out-and-out error. But it sure isn't a clearest case of what a work of physics looks like, either. ... Conformal mapping has been there for a long time (18th century?), and so have been singularities. ... But then, I don't understand GR, and so, I have no right to talk a lot about it.
But it's a borderline case---not an out-and-out error---and since the man is so great, I certainly don't have any complaints about his getting the Nobel either.
I find this comment at Woit's blog interesting:
I have something more to say:
All in all, if the equation "very difficult and very complicated maths = physics" takes hold, then it is going to be very unfortunate for physics---and also very unfortunate for maths.
As to his books: Inasmuch as he opens new vistas and makes them more accessible to the layman, they are good. I didn't have interest in the topics, and hence in the special perspective with which he write them, and hence, his books aren't at the top-end of my favourites. (No, his books aren't as general-purpose as they all make it sound. Just focus on one concept, for example: what the concept "reality" means in a general sense---and the special sense of the term in which *he* takes it.)
So, what I must point out is this: Inasmuch as Penrose's books help support or consolidate positions such as: "reality is what maths says it is;" then "the best (and eventually the only) way to understand reality at the most fundamental level of knowledge is through maths;" and then "philosophy/ontology has nothing valuable to offer to maths or physics," such an influence of his books was, is, and will always be: bad, period.
Something similar can be said about issues like the "micro-tubules" in the brain, consciousness, and free-will.
Penrose is smart, very smart. But the curious thing here is that he himself doesn't (I mean his books don't) make for a real danger. He is careful enough. The real danger is what the "Penrosians" are likely to do with what he has said.
Personally, I would make sure that they don't stand a chance---or, at least, they don't get to have it all too easy---when it comes to the non-relativistic QM. But for the relativity theory, however, I don't know...
[I know they are going to ridicule me. Doesn't matter. One cares for Truth, states one's own case as best as one can (which in my case at least, goes through iterations, too many iterations), and then, one leaves the matters at that---including the ridiculous people.]
[PPS: I've RSI; else, I would've written even more!]
Someone won a prestigious award for mathematically speculating about something they have never seen and never will, which is also not measurable, and can never be tested, much less proven. Bullshit now rules the queen of sciences... fantastic.
From angels dancing on the head of pins, to how many licks does it take to get to the gooey dark center of a black data hole. plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.