Univ. of Chicago Professor Shares Nobel Prize in Physics

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Oct 7, 2008 4:35PM

2008_10_07nambu_yoichiro.jpgWe'd like to congratulate University of Chicago professor Yoichiro Nambu, 87, who was awarded half of the Nobel Prize for Physics today "for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics." According to the Nobel Foundation:

The fact that our world does not behave perfectly symmetrically is due to deviations from symmetry at the microscopic level.

As early as 1960, Yoichiro Nambu formulated his mathematical description of spontaneous broken symmetry in elementary particle physics. Spontaneous broken symmetry conceals nature’s order under an apparently jumbled surface. It has proved to be extremely useful, and Nambu’s theories permeate the Standard Model of elementary particle physics. The Model unifies the smallest building blocks of all matter and three of nature’s four forces in one single theory.

Nambu told the AP, "I was asleep when I got the call...I was surprised and honored." Nambu's wife, Chieko, said, 'I had given up on him getting the honor. He had been nominated so many times, so I thought he was being teased. When he told me the call was from Sweden, the first thing I thought was what will he wear?'' Nambu moved to the United States in 1952, began working for the University of Chicago in 1960, and became a U.S. citizen in 1970.

While Nambu shares half the prize ($1.4 million, a diploma, and a trip to Stockholm in December for the official Nobel ceremony) the other half was awarded to Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature." Said Nambu of the pair he shares the award with, ''I always thought their work would win the Nobel Prize. I am honored to share the prize with them.'' Smart and classy.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences breaks the winners' work down and puts it all in context here [PDF]. We don't understand a word of it, but what we do understand is how big of an honor this is for Prof. Nambu and the University of Chicago.

Photo of Prof. Nambu from the Univ. of Chicago site