Nobel Prize In Physics For (Beautiful) Symmetry Breaking Discoveries

beautiful snowflake stamps photo

(Photo from MSNBC by Kenneth Libbrecht)

Today, the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced for important discoveries in the field of quantum physics. Yoichiro Nambu at Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago, US, shares the prize with Makoto Kobayashi at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, Tsukuba, Japan, and Toshihide Masukawa at the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP), Kyoto University, Japan. Together, their discoveries about "symmetry breaking" and quarks, lead to a deeper understanding of our universe.

What is symmetry breaking? One useful example is the snowflake. How does the oxygen and hydrogen of water form such a wide variety of (beautiful) patterns when forming the simple snowflake? To understand this, we need very complex mathematical models, derived from the years of study of elementary particles and quantum physics.James Trefil explains the Snowflake like this:

Both the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are quite symmetric when they are isolated. The electric force which governs their actions as atoms is also a symmetrically acting force. But when their temperature is lowered and they form a water molecule, the symmetry of the individual atoms is broken as they form a molecule with 105 degrees between the hydrogen-oxygen bonds. When they freeze to form a snowflake, they form another type of symmetry, but the symmetry of the original atoms has been lost. Since this loss of symmetry occurs without any external intervention, we say that it has undergone spontaneous symmetry breaking.

I'm always inspired by these great minds who continue exploring the origins of our universe. Want to read more about symmetry breaking and quantum physics? Here is a (short) list of books:

Richard P. Feynman: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
James Trefil: The Moment of Creation: Big Bang Physics from Before the First Millisecond to the Present Universe
Fritjof Capra: Tao of Physics
Gary Zukav: The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics

Suggestions for further reading? I'm hoping you'll add them in the comment section!

More Nobel Prizes at Treehugger:
Al Gore And IPCC Panel Win The Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize in (Green) Chemistry
Grameen Bank Founder Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (Muhammad Yunus)
Nobel Peace Prize Goes Green (Wangari Maathai)

Spotted by Martin Frid at

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