Tag Archives: nobel

Nobel prize winning sentences

To commemorate the Lindau Nobel Meeting – a gathering of Nobel laureates held in Lindau, Germany – the Scientific American blog looked at “sentence[s] that … best represents [laureates’] Nobel prize-winning work.” They mainly focused on the Physiology or Medicine and Chemistry prizes and I thought it would be interesting to try and do the same for some of the recent Physics prizes.

Obviously the idea of boiling down Nobel prize-winning work to one sentence is impossible, and many people will argue with my choices, but these are my best attempts. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for the discovery of graphene (2010):

“We describe monocrystalline graphitic films, which are a few atoms thick but are nonetheless stable under ambient conditions, metallic, and of remarkably high quality.”

Novoselov, K. et al. 2004. “Electric Field Effect in Atomically Thin Carbon Films”. Science 306(5696): 666–669. doi: 10.1126/science.1102896.

Charles Kao for his work on optical fibres (2009):

“Theoretical and experimental studies indicate that a fibre of glassy material constructed in a cladded structure with a core diameter of about λ0 and an overall diameter of about 100λ0 represents a possible practical optical waveguide with important potential as a new form of communication medium.”

Kao, K. C.; Hockham, G.A. (1966). “Dielectric-fibre surface waveguides for optical frequencies”. Proc. IEE 113(7): 1151–1158. doi: 10.1049/ip-j:19860030.

Willard Boyle and George Smith for the creation of the CCD (2009):

“In this paper we describe a new semiconductor device concept. Basically, it consists of storing charge in potential wells created at the surface of a semiconductor and moving the charge (representing information) over the surface by moving the potential minima.”

Boyle, W. and Smith G. 1970. “Charge Coupled Semi­con­ductor Devices”. Bell System Technical Journal 49(4): 587-593. Link.

Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance (2007):

“We have studied the magnetoresistance of (001)Fe/(001)Cr superlattices prepared by molecular beam epitaxy. A huge magnetoresistance is found in superlattices with thin Cr layers.”

Fert, Albert; et al. 1988. “Giant Magnetoresistance of Fe/Cr Magnetic Superlattices”. Physical Review Letters 61(21): 2472–2475. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.61.2472.

“The electrical resistivity of Fe-Cr-Fe layers with antiferromagnetic interlayer exchange increases when the magnetizations of the Fe layers are aligned antiparallel. The effect is much stronger than the usual anisotropic magnetoresistance and further increases in structures with more than two Fe layers.”

Binasch, G., Grünberg, P., Saurenbach, F. and Zinn, W. 1989. “Enhanced magnetoresistance in layered magnetic structures with antiferromagnetic interlayer exchange”. Phys. Rev. B 39(7): 4828–4830. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevB.39.4828.

David Gross, David Politzer and Frank Wilczek for a discovery regarding the nature of the strong force that binds quarks together in the nucleus (2004):

“It is shown that a wide class of non-Abelian gauge theories have, up to calculable logarithmic corrections, free-field-theory asymptotic behaviour.”

Gross, D. and Wilczek, F. 1973. “Ultraviolet Behaviour of Non-Abelian Gauge Theories”. Phys. Rev. Lett. 30(26):1343-1346 doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.30.1343

“An explicit calculation shows perturbation theory to be arbitrarily good for the deep Euclidean Green’s functions of any Yang-Mills theory and of many Yang-Mills theories with fermions. Under the hypothesis that spontaneous symmetry breakdown is of dynamical origin, these symmetric Green’s functions are the asymptotic forms of the physically significant spontaneously broken solution, whose coupling could be strong.”

Politzer, H.D. 1973. “Reliable Pertubative Results for Strong Interactions?”. Phys. Rev. Lett. 30(26): 1346-1349. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.30.1346.

Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips for their work on laser cooling (1997):

“A variety of powerful techniques to control the position and velocity of neutral particles has been developed. As examples of this new ability, lasers have been used to construct a variety of traps, to cool atoms to temperatures below 3 μK, and to create atomic fountains that may give us a hundredfold increase in the accuracy of atomic clocks.”

Chu, S. 1991 “Laser Manipulation of Atoms and Particles”. Science 253(5022): 861-866. doi: 10.1126/science.253.5022.861.

Douglass Osheroff and Robert Richardson for the discovery of superfluidity in helium-3 (1996):

“Measurements of the melting pressure of a sample of He3 … indicate the existence of a new phase in solid He3 below 2.7 mK of a fundamentally different nature than the anticipated antiferromagnetically ordered state.”

Osheroff, D., Richardson, R. and Lee, D. 1972. “Evidence for a New Phase of Solid He3”. Physical Review Letters 28(14): 885–888. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.28.885.

Can you suggest any other Nobel prize-winning sentences?

How to hide a Nobel medal

In the run up to World War II Niels Bohr’s Institute in Copenhagen had become a refuge for Jewish physicists. The Jewish physicist James Franck and the anti-Nazi physicist Max von Laue, concerned for their gold Nobel Prize medals, both left them there for safekeeping. When Hitler’s army invaded Denmark, Bohr was worried that the invading German soldiers would steal the medals but his friend, the Hungarian physicist George de Hevesy, came up with an ingenious solution.

de Hevesy dissolved both medals in aqua regia, a highly corrosive 1:3 mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid. This formed a transparent yellow liquid, chloroauric acid, that he hid in plain site, simply leaving the jar on a shelf in the Niels Bohr Institute.

When he returned in 1945, after World War II had ended, the jar was still there. The gold was recovered from solution and the medals were restruck by the Nobel Foundation and returned to their rightful owners.

Nobel Prize for Physics 2009

The Nobel Prize for Physics 2009 has been awarded to Charles Kao for his “groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibres for optical communication” and Willard Boyle & George Smith for their “invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor”.

Half the award goes to Charles Kao for his work on the theory behind optical fibres that could be used to transmit information over long distances: 100km compared with the 20m possible beforehand. Every hour thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cable are laid worldwide, with enough fibre laid to encircle the Earth 25000 times, more than a billion kilometres.

Reference: Kao, K.C., Hockham, G.A. (1966) Dielectric-Fibre Surface Waveguides for optical frequencies, Proceedings of the IEEE, 133(3), pp. 191-198. Link

The second half of the award is split between Willard Boyle and George Smith for their work in creating CCD sensors: the “electric film” that digital cameras use, scanners, medical devices and surveillance satellite all use CCDs.

References: Boyle, W.S., Smith G.E. (1970) Charge Coupled Semiconductor Devices, Bell System Technical Journal, 49(4), pp. 587-593. Amelio, G.F., Tompsett, M.F., Smith, G.E. (1970) Experimental Verification of the Charge Coupled Device Concept, Bell System Technical Journal, 49(4), pp. 593-600.

More information: Nobel Prize in Physics 2009 Speed Read

2009 Ignobel Prizes


The Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for research that “can not, or should not, be reproduced” or research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think”. The 2009 prizes have just been awarded:

Prize for Mathematics

Awarded to Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

Prize for Physics

Awarded to Katherine Whitcome, Daniel Lieberman and Liza Shapiro for analytically determining why pregnant women don’t tip over.

Reference: Whitcome, K.K., Shapiro, L.J., Lieberman, D.E. (2007) Fetal Load and the Evolution of Lumbar Lordosis in Bipedal Hominins, Nature, 450, pp. 1075-1078. doi: 10.1038/nature06342

Prize for Chemistry

Awarded to Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga and Victor Castaño for creating diamonds from tequila.

Reference: Morales, J., Apatiga, M., Castaño, V.M. (2008) Growth of Diamond Films from Tequila, arXiv: 0806.1485

Prize for Biology

Awarded to Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the faeces of giant pandas.

Reference: Taguchi, F., Guofu, S., Guanglei, Z. (2001) Microbial Treatment of Kitchen Refuse With Enzyme-Producing Thermophilic Bacteria From Giant Panda Feces, Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi, 79(12), pp. 463-469. Link

Prize for Medicine

Awarded to Donald Unger for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty years.

Reference: Unger, D.L. (1998) Does Knuckle Cracking Lead to Arthritis of the Fingers?, Arthritis and Rheumatism, 41(5), pp. 949-950. doi: 10.1002/1529-0131(199805)41:5<949::AID-ART36>3.0.CO;2-3

Prize for Veterinary Medicine

Awarded to Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.

Reference: Bertenshaw, C., Rowlinson, P. (2009) Exploring Stock Managers’ Perceptions of the Human-Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production, Anthrozoos, 22(1), pp. 56-59. doi: 10.2752/175303708X390473

Peace Prize

Awarded to Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

Reference: Bollinger, S.A. et al (2008) Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull?, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16(3), pp. 138-142. doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2008.07.013

Prize for Public Health

Awarded to Elena Bodnar, Raphael Lee and Sandra Marijan for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.

Reference: US Patent #7255627 for “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks.”


Dr Elena Bodnar demonstrates the face mask bra, assisted by (l-r) Wolfgang Ketterle (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2001), Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize in Literature, 2006) and Paul Krugman (Nobel Prize in Economics, 2008)

2008 Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry

The 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Yoichiro Nambu and Makoto Kobayashi & Toshihide Maskawa for their work on broken symmetries. Symmetry breaking explains some of the odd behaviour of fundamental particles and explains why there is a difference between matter and anti-matter: in short, it explains why something exists instead of nothing!

The 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien for their discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP. GFP was originally isolated from the bioluminescent jellyfish Aequorea victoria and has been used as “tag” to show whether a particular gene has been “absorbed” by a host organism- if an organism glows, then the inserted genes have been successfully taken up.