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Posts Tagged ‘nobel’

A Nobel Prize most appreciated at CERN

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

The whole of CERN was elated today to learn that the Nobel Prize for Physics had been awarded this year to Professors François Englert and Peter Higgs for their theoretical work on what is now known as the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. This mechanism explains how all elementary particles get their masses.

higgs-and-englert

CERN had good reason to celebrate, since last year on 4 July, scientists working on LHC experiments proudly announced the discovery of a new particle, which was later confirmed to be a Higgs boson. This particle proves that the theory Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs developed, along with others, in 1964 was indeed correct.

The Higgs boson discovery was essential to establish their theory so we are all happy to see their work (and to some extent, our work) acknowledged with this prestigious award.

It took another decade before Steve Weinberg, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1979, saw the full implication of their work while unifying two fundamental forces, the electromagnetic and weak forces, as Peter Higgs explained in July at the European Physical Society meeting of the Particle Physics division, where he gave a highly appreciated presentation. There he detailed the work of all those who preceded him, including Englert and Brout, in bringing key elements that enabled him to conceive his own work.

Peter Higgs recalled how it all began with pioneering work on “spontaneous symmetry breaking” done by Yoichiro Nambu in 1960 (for which he shared the Nobel Prize in 2008). Nambu himself was inspired by Robert Schrieffer, a condensed matter physicist who had developed similar concepts for the theory of superconductivity with John Bardeen and Leon Cooper (1972 Nobel Prize).

Spontaneous symmetry breaking is central in the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism rewarded today by the Swedish Academy of Science.

Jeffrey Goldstone then introduced a scalar field model often referred to as the “Mexican hat” potential while another condensed matter theorist, Philip Anderson (Nobel Prize in 1977) showed how to circumvent some problems pointed out by Goldstone.

Then, Englert and Brout published their paper, where the mechanism was finally laid out. Peter Higgs, who was working entirely independently from Brout and Englert, had his own paper out a month later with a specific mention of an associated boson. Tom Kibble, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen soon after contributed additional key elements to complete this theory.

“I had to mention this boson specifically because my paper was first rejected for lack of concrete predictions”, Peter Higgs explained good-heartedly in his address last summer. This explicit mention of a boson is partly why his name got associated with the now famous boson.

The history of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism just goes to show how in theory just like in experimental physics, it takes lots of people contributing good ideas, a bit of luck but mostly great collaboration to make ground-breaking discoveries.

The thousands of physicists, engineers and technicians who made the discovery of the Higgs boson possible at the LHC are also all celebrating today.

Pauline Gagnon

To find out more about the Higgs boson, here is a 25-minute recorded lecture I gave at CERN on Open Days

To be alerted of new postings, follow me on Twitter: @GagnonPauline
 or sign-up on this mailing list to receive and e-mail notification.

 

 

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Nobel Dreams

Friday, October 4th, 2013

The liveblog

Greeting from Brussels! This is my liveblog of the Nobel Prize Announcement Ceremony, bringing you the facts and the retweets as they happen.

14:14: Press Conference ongoing. “This is a great day for young people.”

13:56: A moving statement from Kibble (source):

I am glad to see that the Swedish Academy has recognized the importance of the mass-generating mechanism for gauge theories and the prediction of the Higgs boson, recently verified at CERN. My two collaborators, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen, and I contributed to that discovery, but our paper was unquestionably the last of the three to be published in Physical Review Letters in 1964 (though we naturally regard our treatment as the most thorough and complete) and it is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the Prize cannot be shared by more than three people. My sincere congratulations go to the two Prize winners, François Englert and Peter Higgs. A sad omission from the list was Englert’s collaborator Robert Brout, now deceased.

13:37: CERN are holding a press conference at 14:00 (CET) link

13:22: Commentary continues at the Nobel Prize page. Currently discussing why the boson was so hard to find. “This particle has been looked for at every accelerator that has existed.”

13:20: As expected, so many news sites have been created: CMS, ATLAS, ULB, Edinburgh

13:14: I think my twitter account has exploded with tweets. Also, some Belgian news pages are down, probably due to high traffic. Wow!

13:11: Wow, what a great announcement. Too short though!

13:08: Find out more about the physics at Brussels, where the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism was born! The IIHE and the Nobel Prize

13:01: Englert is on the phone. Good to hear from him :)

12:59: Animation of the boson appearing, cool!

12:57: We just opened the champagne here at ULB!

12:52: Text for the announcement:

“For the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”

12:48: The award goes to Englert and Higgs!

12:44: One minute to go!

12:39: We all know what the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism is and what the boson discovery means, so let’s instead take a look at the other likely awards. The prize could go to the discovery of extra solar planets. 51 Pegasi b was an extra solar planet discovered in 1995, orbiting a sun-like star. This discovery could have far reaching implications. What would happen if we saw spectral lines suggesting the presence amino acids coming from the planet? (I’m not sure such a phenomenon is even possible, but if it is it would be a very strong indicator of RNA-like life from another planet.) That discovery took place 18 years ago, and the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson was discovered only one year ago. Either discovery would certainly be worthy of the prize.

12:33: A quantum approach to the delay problem:

Someone go observe the academy and make them leave this terrible superposition. (@lievenscheire)

12:32: Another possible reason for the delay:

There’ll be a new hunt for the #Higgs. He’s gone to the Highlands to avoid the fuss if he wins #nobelprize. Maybe reason for delay. (@BBCPallab)

12:31: The Nobel Prize committee are stalling by suggesting we look at previous awards. At least they are trying to keep up amused while we wait :)

12:29: Around the world people are patiently waiting. People from the US have been awake since 5:00am. In Marakech the ATLAS Collaboration looks on. Here are ULB/IIHE the cafeteria seem deserted. (I’m glad there’s a coffee machine on the desk next time mine.) I’m starting to think this is a plot to get some more media attention for what is bound to be a controversial year for physics. There are many good choices of topic this year, and even some of the topics have controversial choices of Laureates.

12:21: Some humourous speculation about the delay:

The Academy only has 3 #sigma evidence of more votes for than against, waiting for more data (@SethZenz)

They can’t get Comic Sans installed on the Academy’s computer (@orzelc)

The committee were mobbed trying to get across a cocktail party. (@AstroKatie)

12:07: The announcement is delayed until 12:45 CET. People are complaining about the background music!

11:58: The announcement is delayed until 12:30 CET.

11:44: According to the Guardian (source) there will be a delay of 30 minutes.

11:42: Just over two minutes to go. This could be a very exciting year for Belgium.

11:33: See the livecast.

Other info

On Tuesday October 8th the recipient(s) of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced. There has already been a lot of speculation about who might be the Nobel Laureates this year, and there is a lot of interest in the likely contenders! Each year Thomson Reuters publishes predictions of who might receive the Nobel Prizes, and this year they have narrowed the scope down to three likely awards in physics:

  • ‣ Francois Englert and Peter Higgs, for their prediction of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. (Brout is deceased and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.)
  • ‣ Hideo Hosono, for his discovery of iron-based superconductors.
  • ‣ Geoffrey Marcy, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz, for their discoveries of extrasolar planets.
The 2012 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2012 Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

The 2012 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2012 Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

There has also been speculation that either Anderson or Nambu may receive a second Nobel Prize for their work related to spontaneous symmetry breaking.

With so many different predictions and so many opinions it can be hard to keep up with all the latest news and blogs! I know that a lot of people plan to share their views and experiences of the day, so I’ll be keep a list of bloggers and tweeters that you can follow.

Seth Zenz:

See Seth’s excellent post about the Nobel Prize, Englert and Higgs, and CERN. You can also follow his twitter account: @SethZenz

James Doherty:

See James’s great post about the Nobel Prize, He’s on twitter too: @JimmyDocco

Guardian liveblog

Other twitter accounts to follow:

@CERN

@aidanatcern

@kylecranmer

@kenbloomunl

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A Higgs Nobel? And to Whom?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

The smart money for this year’s Nobel Prize, it seems, is on Peter Higgs and François Englert to win for developing the theory of the boson that bears one of their names. Awarding the prize to the two of them would, of course, be a great oversimplification of assigning credit for that theory. Robert Brout, who worked with Englert, died in 2011 and so is ineligible for the prize. Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble published independent work on the same problems at the same time. All six shared the 2010 Sakurai Prize “for elucidation of the properties of spontaneous symmetry breaking in four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory and of the mechanism for the consistent generation of vector boson masses,” but the Nobel rules are more restrictive.

If the Nobel Prize goes to only two of six theorists, it is certainly in the tradition of the prize, whose structure implicitly assumes that great scientific breakthroughs are made by great people through well-defined leaps of genius. More often, though, theoretical work is incremental. Ideas are exchanged, developed partially by one person before being expanded upon by the next. The positive way to look at it is that the prize would be symbolic, awarded to two people who represent a broader effort.

Of course, the main reason the Higgs boson is of interest right now is the experimental work done in finding it! Could there be a Nobel Prize for that? Well, I can’t see any way to award an individual for the efforts of thousands of people over decades. An untold number of “little” problems have been solved by those people in building a bigger and better accelerator, and bigger and better detectors, than have ever been built before. So what I would like to see is the Nobel Committee changing its traditions and awarding the physics prize to CERN along with the theorists.

A prize to CERN would again be symbolic. Not everyone who made important contributions to finding the Higgs works at CERN. Thousands of the contributors worked at United States labs and universities from the very beginning, for example. But as the center of the LHC effort, it does represent all that work. Not a sudden flash of genius, but lots of hardworking people tackling tough scientific and technical problems. In other words, the way great science is usually done.

Flip Tanedo, Katie Yurkewicz, and the Higgs boson

Katie Yurkewicz, Flip Tanedo, and the Higgs boson. (Originally for this contest in Symmetry.)

For a more humorous take on all this, please see this Scientific American article on the early awarding of the prize to the boson itself. My favorite bit is this: “A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations.” As you can see at right, this is frighteningly close to what some USLHC communicators have actually been involved in.

The real Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced next Tuesday, October 8. So stay tuned!

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Update I: Included Medicine Award (Oct 03)

Update II: Included Physics Award (Oct 04)

… it’s Nobel Week! October means three things: Halloween (duh), Fall, and Nobel Week, the week during which the famed prizes are awarded to those who have “conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” [1]. Okay, before I get comments about the subjectivity of those who award the prizes, I gladly admit that the history of the prize is not without controversy relating to those who have & have not won, in both the science and non-science categories.

I am just going to ignore all of that and talk about why everyone should be excited about this week. Though before I talk about this week’s Nobels, I feel I should probably give the SparkNotes version of the prizes’ history.

Figure 1: The 2008 Chemistry Prize was awarded for the discovery and development of green fluorescent protein (GFP), which when inserted into a soon-to-be parent is passed onto an offspring who can then glow green. Glowing cat!
(Image: The Nobel Foundation)

[1] http://www.nobelprize.org/alfred_nobel/will/will-full.html

A Brief History of Alfred Nobel

Figure 2: Alfred Nobel. (Image: The Nobel Foundation)

The year is 1866, the Second Industrial Revolution is raging, innovation is surging, and the US Civil War over.

Insert Alfred Nobel: A son of a successful engineer who developed controlled explosives for the demolition and mining industries. The younger Nobel, unsurprisingly, decided be a chemist after playing with nitroglycerin in a French laboratory. As a public service announcement, I should probably mention that nitroglycerin is very dangerous and is a principle ingredient in dynamite. In fact, Nobel was so convinced that nitroglycerine had useful application in construction that he decided to invent dynamite. Needless to say, dynamite made Nobel a very, very, very rich man. At the end of his life, he decided to endow, with the bulk of his fortune, a set of prizes to recognize those who have contributed greatest in the Fields of Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace. Economics, though not stipulated in the original will, was added later and is funded separately.

Figure 2: The chemical structure of nitroglycerin. This stuff is wicked; the physical chemistry behind its structure worth a gander. Consider this an advertisement to go earn a chemistry degree. (Image: Wikipedia)

What Makes a Prize

The Nobels has come a long way since they were first instituted. Most notably, they no longer are awarded for the greatest discovery or invention from the past year; the prizes now award those results with the most lasting influence and impact. Take last year for example. The 2011 award for Physiology or Medicine went solely to Sir Robert Edwards for having developed in vitro fertilization. You would think something that is, in every sense of the word, responsible for the existence of millions of people would have been awarded long, long ago. I mean, that is what went through my mind last October. Therein lies the novelty of the Nobel Prizes: These days, the awards are given to what seem like common knowledge, because in some sense they are. What one has to realize though is that prior a laureate’s discovery or invention, these ideas and concepts just did not exist. Imagine a world in which no one knew of insulin (Nobel 1923). Weird, no?

This brings me to why Nobel Week is so much fun. Sometimes you know quite a bit about the award-winning discovery and so you get to spend the day reading news articles and science blogs learning all about the topic’s history. Werner Forssmann’s invention of the cardiac catheter (Nobel 1953) has a hysterical history that is well worth a read. At other times, you have no idea what the award citation even means, but you just know it is worth spending a few minutes or even a few hours learning. I mean, why else would a Nobel be awarded? Take, as another example, 2008’s Physics prize. The award citation reads:

“… for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics,” [2]

and

“for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry
which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature
.” [2]

Yup, it is a mouthful and probably seems a bit obtuse. That is, until you start looking up Wikipedia or news articles (or Quantum Diaries!), and realize how amazingly awesome these discoveries are. I mean, sure discovering spontaneous symmetry breaking (SSB) sounds nice and fancy but did you know that is why the bosons in the Standard Model of Physics have the masses they do?!? SSB, when applied specifically to the Electroweak bosons (photon, W, & Z) is the Higgs Mechanism, and when applied to fermions, is what generates the higgs boson. SSB is an established scientific fact and is also the driving force behind superconductivity (Nobel 1972) Whether or not the higgs boson exists, however, is completely different story.

Figure 3: The quark sector of the Standard Model of Particle Physics and their discovery dates. (Image: Nobel Foundation)

So back in 1977 a Fermilab team, led by Leon Lederman, discovered the bottom quark (Nobel 1988), and in 1995, the CDF & DZero Tevatron experiments discovered the top quark. Ever wonder how we knew to look for them in the first place? It was because of something called the CKM matrix. It was introduced as a way of organizing the the different ways particles in the Standard Model could interact and decay. However, as gorgeous as this new organization was, in order to work the CKM matrix required the existence of two new quarks. Well guess what, Fermilab found those two quarks and set the Standard Model in stone.

The 2009 Nobel Prizes are equally impressive. Half the prize was awarded for the development of fiber optics, which is the foundation of modern telecommunications, and something called Charged-Coupled Devices (CCD). What took me a few hours to learn is that if you take this sensor, attach a flashbulb, a battery, and maybe a memory card, you get a digital camera. In other words, half the 2009 prize was awarded for inventing the digital camera. The prize winners were simply trying to develop a better way of storing data and inadvertently created an entire industry. A fun fact: the first transistor (Nobel 1967) was made of paperclips. If you are curious about what makes transistors so important, take apart your computer and take a peek. (Please, make sure the computer is unplugged before opening it.)

[2] http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2008/

Does Every Major Discovery/Invention Get a Prize?

No. First off, Nobel Prizes are no longer awarded posthumously. Secondly, from my discussions about this issue, there seems to be a consensus there may be a limit to what is & is not awarded when it comes to the sciences. Now the Swedish Academies always reserve the right to set a new precedent, however, it is unlikely that any organizations will be awarded a Nobel in science categories anytime soon. (This is the complete opposite for the Peace Prize, of course.) What does this all mean? Well, the top quark was a pretty heavy discovery and is well worth its weight in gold, at least in my opinion. However, to whom would you award the prize? No single person at the CDF experiment can justly say she or he discovered the quark; it was a team effort and all CDF personnel can proudly state she or he helped discover the quark.

“Which of the Gang of Six, if the higgs boson is discovered, should get the Nobel, if at all?” is an honest, open question and is well above my pay grade. A similar statement could be made about Supersymmetry.

Turning Nobel Week into Fun-bel Week

Now for the fun part. So during this week, pick your favorite subject, which of course is physics, and go figure out what the whole big hubbub is. Depending on your timezone, this may either be with your morning coffee or afternoon tea. In any case, it is an excuse to learn something new! :)

Alternatively, you can check back here Tuesday afternoon (Madison/Chicago time) because I am sure many of us will be commenting on the latest news.

This Week’s Schedule

Live Video Player here.

Physiology or Medicine – Awarded for the discovery of the innate and adaptive immune systems! Okay, really this is great. The human body has evolved to be inherently immune to certain pathogens. The human body, in its resourcefulness, can also adapt and become immune to pathogens. The end result is that when the two are combined and wait a few hundred thousand years,  you get us!

Physics – Awarded for discovering that expansion rate of the universe, is itself increasing. The universe expands, Edwin Hubble discovered that decades ago. Today’s award winners discovered that the universe expands at an accelerating rate! Bravo!

Chemistry – The prize will be announced on Wednesday 5 October, 11:45 a.m. CET [5:45 am  CDT/Chicago].

Peace – The prize will be announced on Friday 7 October, 11:00 a.m. CET [5:00 am  CDT/Chicago].

Economics – The prize will be announced on Monday 10 October, 1:00 p.m. CET [7:00 am  CDT/Chicago].

Literature – To Be Announced

 

 

 

 

Regardless of the outcome, I would love to read everyone’s thoughts and speculations before and after the awards!

Happy Colliding

- richard (@bravelittlemuon)

 

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Berkeley’s Nobel Prize Parking

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

There’s a great story on NPR’s Morning Edition about UC Berkeley’s “Nobel Laureate” parking spots. From the article:

Winning a Nobel Prize is difficult enough. But on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, there is something that might be even more difficult to get: a parking space on the central campus.

That’s why Berkeley has made it a practice to offer its Nobel laureates an extra-special perk: a free lifetime permit to park in the highly coveted spaces near the central campus. The spots would normally cost about $1,500 a year.

Five of the ‘NL’ spots are by the Berkeley Physics department and the article mentions ’06 physics laureate and Cal cosmologist George Smoot. I spent a summer in Berkeley in 2006 and dug up the following photo from the time:

BerkeleyNL

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Particle Physics Nobels!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

This week the Nobel Prize for Physics was given to three theorists in our field: Nambu, Kobayashi, and Maskawa. If you want to read more about them, the science behind their discoveries, or the coverage of the award, I recommend this post on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker. You can also check out the post on Cosmic Variance, which discusses some of the controversy in the physics community over this award and has a link to a good explanation of spontaneous symmetry breaking.

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