Three local professors — Harvard Professor Michael Kremer and husband and wife Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of MIT — have won the Nobel Prize in economics for their experimental approach to fighting global poverty. Duflo spoke with WGBH Radio’s Arun Rath. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: How did you get the news?

Esther Duflo: With a phone call a little bit before 5:00 in the morning. I woke up with that phone call. I picked it up and it said, "We have an important call from Sweden." And then I started to think, what can an important call from Sweden be?

Rath: So you're the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize in economics at 46. What does it feel like to achieve something like this with conceivably so much of your career still ahead of you?

Duflo: It feels incredibly humbling and exciting. I think it would not be possible without being part of a big movement of hundreds of researchers applying the same methods for which all three of us have been recognized. I should mention that I'm the youngest, but Abhijit and Michael are not particularly old either. And I think the Nobel Prize in economics usually recognizes an influence on the field, and I think the only way we got to get this prize now is because of that movement that is much bigger than us.

Rath: Let's talk about that, because the work is fascinating. The work is credited as being experimental and innovative, but what you and your colleagues did experimentally worked so well they've sort of become standard approaches. Could you run through some of these things that are commonplace now, but reflect your approach?

Duflo: So our work is experimental in the literal sense, in that we run experiments. So what we are doing is trying to break up the whole big problem in poverty into thousands of littler problems, more well-defined questions that can be addressed with experiments, with randomized ontrolled trials, the same way that you experiment a drug.

So for example, you are asking, 'Would it help if we put computers in schools?' You can set up an experiment to test that proposition. It might seem obvious that it would, but it's not obvious. You can set up an experiment to answer that question. So what we've been doing in our work and promoting to the work of of J-PAL, the Poverty Action Lab, is this experimental approach of setting up randomized controlled trials to test what might work against a particular problem, what doesn't work, and why.

We calculate that 400 million people have been touched by polices that J-PAL researchers or a J-PAL project has found to be effective. And to that you need to add the fact that there are also projects that have not been scaled up because they were ineffective, and then that's a better deployment of the resources, which are looking to do better things as well.

Rath: So a big part of it is figuring out what worked, and you also figure out what doesn't work for the experimental approach?

Duflo: Sometimes you figure out what doesn't work. Sometimes you're lucky and you figure out something that does work, and then finding out something that does work gives you a very solid argument for adopting these as policies and talking to governments to scale up a project.

Rath: Finally, and you’ll have to forgive me because I have to ask a personal question, because you are married to one of the recipients of the prize. And we think about people like the Curies, the success that excites people when you think about a married couple doing exciting research. Did your relationship grow out of your research or vice-versa?

Duflo: Our relationship grew out of research. We were partners in work for many, many years before we became partners in life.

Rath: That's wonderful. Now how are the two of you going to be celebrating now?

Duflo: Our friends and colleagues are throwing us a party, so we are looking forward to picking up our children from the various playdates where we parked them and bringing them to our friends' house for some wine and good cheer.