October 9, 2008

Scientists Awarded Nobel for Theoretical Advances

By The Associated Press

Two Japanese scientists and an American have won the 2008 Nobel Prize in physics for theoretical advances that help explain the behavior of the smallest particles of matter.The American, Yoichiro Nambu, 87, of the University of Chicago, won half the $1.4 million prize for work he did nearly a half-century ago.Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, of Japan, shared the other half for a 1972 theory that forecast the later discovery of a new family of subatomic particles.The insights "give us a deeper understanding of what happens far inside the tiniest building blocks of matter," said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which presents the physics award.Or, as physicist Phil Schewe, a spokesman for the American Institute of Physics, put it: "Nature works in strange ways, and these three physicists helped to explain that strangeness in an ingenious way."They focused on a concept physicists call symmetry, and more specifically on occasions when that symmetry is violated.In physics, the idea of symmetry means that a physical situation will be unaltered by certain changes. At the subatomic level, for example, things should happen the same way whether time is running forward or backward, so if you were watching a movie, you could not tell which way the movie was going.

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