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Physics Nobel Prize awards hidden symmetry research

By Joshua S Hill Oct 7, 2008, 21:23 GMT

Physics Nobel Prize awards hidden symmetry research

A handout photo provided by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) shows Japanese physicist Makoto Kobayashi, speaking during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, 07 October 2008, after learning that he won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics. EPA/Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

The award for the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2008 has been awarded in two halves to three scientists for their work in exploring the hidden symmetries in physics.

The first half of the $1.3 million award was awarded to Yoichiro Nambu, of Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago, "for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics.”

The other half was jointly awarded to Makoto Kobayashi of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), Tsukuba, Japan and Toshihide Maskawa,Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP), Kyoto University, Japan, "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature"

The Nobel organization released an “Information for the Public” document that helps further understand the idea of broken symmetry.

Natural laws should be perfectly symmetrical and absolute; they should be valid throughout the whole of the universe. This approach seems true for most situations, but not always. That is why broken symmetries became the subject of physics research as much as symmetries themselves, which is not so remarkable considering our lopsided world where perfect symmetry is a rare ideal.

It was Nambu who, in 1960, formulated his mathematical description of spontaneous broken symmetry in elementary particle physics. In essence, his spontaneous broken symmetry hides the perfect symmetry of nature underneath a mess of real life.

However the spontaneous broken symmetries that Nambu studied differ from the broken symmetries that Koboyashi and Maskawa study. But nevertheless, in explanations published in 1972, the pair attempted to explain these spontaneous occurrences, and have only recently seen scientists come to fully confirm what they held to be true so long ago.

The Nobel Prize announcements will be taking place all this week, and into the beginning of next week. Wednesday will see the Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded, followed by Literature, Peace, and then Economics on Monday the 13th. The Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Harald zur Hausen, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for discoveries of viruses linked to disease.

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