Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Broken Symmetry

It's very exciting to read that the Nobel Prize in Physics this year has been awarded to three Japanese particle physicists, Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, who each mapped out mechanisms for broken symmetry in particle physics. They borrowed the idea from low temperature physics, where a similar phenomenon explains superconductivity. Not often do particle theorists get the Nobel these days, so it is quite a significant event.

Broken symmetry explains differences in mass and other properties on the fundamental level. It posits that at high enough energies, particles exist in a kind of democracy--all of them equal--but as temperatures lower, they lock into particular configurations like crystalline patterns of ice on a pane of glass. It's a brilliant idea, and part of what will be tested at the Large Hadron Collider.

Hearty congratulations to the new Nobel Laureates!