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In this Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 photo provided by Stanford University, Robert Wilson, left, and Paul Milgrom wear masks as they stand for a photo in Stanford, Calif. The two American economists, both professors at Stanford, won the Nobel Prize in Economics for improving how auctions work. That research that underlies much of today's economy - from the way Google sells advertising to the way telecoms companies acquire airwaves from the government.

In this Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 photo provided by Stanford University, Robert Wilson, left, and Paul Milgrom wear masks as they stand for a photo in Stanford, Calif. The two American economists, both professors at Stanford, won the Nobel Prize in Economics for improving how auctions work. That research that underlies much of today’s economy — from the way Google sells advertising to the way telecoms companies acquire airwaves from the government.

Andrew Brodhead/Associated Press

When people are urgently calling and knocking on your door at 2 a.m., that’s rarely good news. But luckily for Stanford professor Paul Milgrom, Monday was the happiest early-morning disturbance of his life.

The Nobel Prize committee informs winners during work-day hours in Sweden, which means American recipients get calls in the wee small hours. So when the 2020 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences went to Milgrom and his fellow Stanford economist Robert Wilson, the news came at 2 a.m. Wilson learned first, as the Nobel committee was having difficulty getting in touch with Milgrom. Not to worry, Wilson told them. He is neighbors with Milgrom.

So Wilson and his wife Mary got dressed and went next door to Milgrom’s Stanford home to let him know the good news. The entire moment was caught on Milgrom’s Nest cam.

“Paul, it’s Bob Wilson,” Wilson says. “You’ve won the Nobel Prize and so they’re trying to reach you but they cannot. They don’t seem to have a number for you.”

There is a moment of stunned silence before Milgrom responds, “Wow, yeah. OK.”

The pair have been friends and co-workers since the late 1970s when Milgrom was Wilson’s grad student. Their Nobel Prize is for their work on auction theory, which you can read more about here.

“Bob Wilson and Paul Milgrom’s path-breaking discoveries in auction theory opened up new possibilities in real-world transactions,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement. “Their insights into bidding and pricing have become integral to our modern economy. Their work is a shining example of the ways in which both fundamental discovery and its application to practical solutions make enormous contributions to modern society. All of us at Stanford are tremendously proud of their accomplishments.”

Milgrom, the founding director of Stanford’s Institute for Theoretical Economics, has been at the university since 1987. Wilson has been a Stanford faculty member since 1964 and was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in the ’90s.

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