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Nobel Prize in Physics to particle theorists! October 7, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.
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Breaking news: Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi, and Toshihide Maskawa win the nobel prize in Physics. I will have something more to say about this in a little while…

Here is the committee who chose the laureates this year:

  • Joseph Nordgren (Chairman), Professor of Soft X-ray Physics
  • Lars Bergström (Secretary), Professor of Theoretical Physics
  • Lars Brink, Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics (Member)
  • Börje Johansson (Member), Professor of Condensed Matter Physics
  • Björn Jonson (Member), Professor of Fundamental Physics
  • Ingemar Lundström (Member), Professor of Applied Physics

A bit too many Bjorns and Larses for my taste, but they made a good choice. I wonder why Nicola Cabibbo was left out of the package though. Cabibbo initiated a decade earlier what Kobayashi and Maskawa completed in 1971, when he invented his angle \theta_c to describe the mixing of down-type d and s quarks, explaining much of the phenomenology of weak decays.

UPDATE: concerning the question, also mentioned in the comments thread below, of whether Cabibbo deserved to be part of the trio, here is what Roberto Petronzio, president of the INFN – the italian institute for subnuclear physics – has to say:

“I am glad that the Nobel prize has been given to this sector of Physics which is earning more and more attention throughout the world and from which we expect fundamental discoveries which will increase our knowledge of the Universe. However, I cannot hide that this particular choice fills me with bitterness: Kobayashi and Maskawa have as only merit the generalization, and a simple one at that, of a central idea whose paternity is to be attributed to the italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo, who autonomously and pioneering understood the mechanism of quark mixing, then easily generalized by the two prize winners. The contribution of Nambu, however, is fundamental for particle physics and his works on spontaneous symmetry breaking are one of the pillars of the present Standard Model”.

Originally: “Sono lieto che il premio Nobel sia stato attribuito a questo settore della fisica che sta avendo sempre più attenzione da tutto il mondo e dal quale ci aspettiamo fondamentali scoperte che aumenteranno la nostra comprensione sull’Universo. Tuttavia, non posso nascondere che questa particolare attribuzione mi riempie di amarezza: Kobayashi e Maskawa hanno come unico merito la generalizzazione, per altro semplice, di un’idea centrale la cui paternità è da attribuire al fisico italiano Nicola Cabibbo che, in modo autonomo e pionieristico, ha compreso il meccanismo del fenomeno del mescolamento dei quark, poi facilmente generalizzato dai due fisici premiati. Il contributo di Nambu, d’altra parte, è fondamentale per la fisica delle particelle e i suoi lavori sulla rottura spontanea di simmetria sono uno dei pilastri dell’attuale Modello Standard.”

I agree with Petronzio, although I do not consider Kobayashi’s and Maskawa’s contribution just a “simple generalization”. Their intuition was very important indeed. But Cabibbo’s idea was really the foundation of the whole idea of quark mixing.

UPDATE: one more note.

If you search for papers by Nambu in the Spires archive, you might be tempted to look at his most cited ones. You then get the following list (other papers got less than 1000 citations):

1) Dynamical Model of Elementary Particles Based on an Analogy with Superconductivity. 1.
Yoichiro Nambu, G. Jona-Lasinio (Chicago U., EFI) . 1961.
Published in Phys.Rev.122:345-358,1961.

TOPCITE = 2000+

2) Dynamical Model Of Elementary Particles Based On An Analogy With Superconductivity. Ii.
Yoichiro Nambu, G. Jona-Lasinio (Chicago U., EFI) . 1961.
Published in Phys.Rev.124:246-254,1961.

TOPCITE = 1000+

A colleague of mine in Padova notes that Jona-Lasinio might have something to say about this year’s choice of Nobel prizes!