Friday, October 17, 2014

Nobel Prize 2014 : Physics Front Runners & Winners

Dear Readers 

Yes! The Nobel Prize award ceremonies are just a couple of months off and from what I hear it’s going to be dynamite! (Pardon the ill choice of words)

The prize winners were announced over the past couple of days as we gear up towards December. I decided to do a series of articles covering the Prize Categories 

But where is the controversy? You may ask. 

Well firstly there will be the controversy as to why I’m writing about this seemingly non-controversial topic thus diverging from the central theme of the blog itself.
Secondly competitions themselves are in their essence built upon controversy as people argue the question of “who is the best?” 
Thirdly, Have you seen the Nobel Prizes before? Very definition of controversy.

So without further hesitation
Here are the citations


Nominations for the Nobel Physics Prize are invitation only and are to be kept under wraps for the duration of 50 years.  But before we celebrate the winner I feel it is a must that we acknowledge some of the probable front runners in the division. In no particular order here are some of the eligible nominees:

BICEP 2 team: Residual gravitational waves from the Big Bang 

Before getting down to the real nominees, the BICEP 2 team in my humble opinion would’ve been solid competition due to the gravity of their findings (pardon the pun). 

However due to the dust up (again I do apologize, all things thrive but thrice) they had with the Planck team, results have yet to be confirmed and thus they won’t even be in the running. Fingers crossed for 2015 guys. 

Peidong Yang: Photonic Nanowire Technology 

This Chinese-born American chemist and materials scientist at University of California, Berkeley had a promising candidacy due to his contributions to nanowire photonics. 

The Thomas Reuters group seems to share this opinion as he was among their top 10 chemists of the decade and also ranked as the leading materials scientist in 2010.

Nanowires are, as their name suggests, wires with a diameter of 1 nanometer. Its quantum size offers a host of wondrous attributes unattainable by larger wires, a key trait among these being that nanowires are smaller than the wavelength of light(200-700nm) thus enabling the manipulation of optical energy. This opened up a plethora of avenues for the practical application of photonics. Scientists are conducting research on the integration of photonic nanowire technology with devices for computing, communication and sensing.  

Prof.Peidong Yang (right) and group

What earned Prof.Peidong Yang and his group a nomination was their invention of the first room- temperature UV nanowire laser in 2001, which was pumped into their synthesized zinc oxide nanowires to produce light; thereby demonstrating the very practical prospect of integrating photonic and microelectronic devices  at room temperature.   

His paper earned him over 5000 citations and was a highly qualified and worthy contender.


Lene Hau: Catching light

Prof. Lene Hau
On the subject of Photonics, Danish Professor Lene Hau performed the astounding feat of literally stopping a beam of light. 

In 1999, She and her team at Harvard managed to slow down light to 17 metres per second by using a Bose-Einstein Condensate (gas of bosons cooled to extreme cold, near absolute zero temperature) and in 2001 eventually  succeeded to stop it. 

The experiment saw a beam of light sent through a medium of condensated sodium atoms which exponentially reduced speeds. Newer experiments with the utilization of lasers allowed them to stop the light pulse and create a meta copy of it (essentially meaning its extinguishment) which could be manipulated and brought back into existence as a light beam. In other words this is a transformation of light into matter and back into light. 

Applications of this experiment range from quantum computing to communication through the use of photonics. For this staggering accomplishment and contribution Prof. Lene Hau is well deserving of the Nobel Prize and I see her being granted the honour in the future.

J.F.Scott: Ferroelectric memory devices
R.Ramesh & Y.Tokura: New MultiFerroic materials

Our second joint candidacy comes from the field of Ferroelectrics. 

Ferroelectricity refers to the ability of certain materials to create spontaneous electric polarization that can be activated and reversed
by subjecting it to an external electrical field.

This trait allows the materials to act as non-volatile memory (information stored after power is switched off) which could be read, erased and written.

Prof. James F. Scott
Professor James Scott’s groundbreaking contribution came in 1989, at the University of Colorado, when he combined a ferroelectric thin film individually to both silicon and gallium arsenide semiconductors. The outcome of which, allowed for the creation of ferroelectric integrated circuit memory that was far superior to magnetic core and bubble memory.

In addition to a Nobel prize nomination, on election to the Royal Society of London in 2008, he earned the moniker “father of integrated ferroelectrics “as citation.

Multiferroic materials are compounds that display more than one primary ferroic order parameters simultaneously at a given time. In regards to ferroelectrics, there are some multiferroic oxides which can be controlled both magnetically and electrically, the implications of which are going to hugely benefit future memory technology. 
Prof.Ramamoorthy Ramesh & Prof.Yoshinori Tokura’s research on the oxides, bismuth ferrite BiFeO3 and perovskite manganite TbMnO3  (respectively) further pushed the boundaries of Professor J.Scott’s work giving us an enhanced perception on memory, its manipulation and control and its countless applications. 

Prof.Yoshinori Tokura (left) & Prof.Ramamoorthy Ramesh (right)

All three gentlemen were strong candidates for their remarkable efforts in the field of ferroelectrics to improve memory and increase the energy efficiency of our essential electronic devices. 

C. L. Kane, L. W. Molenkamp & S. Zhang: Topological insulators

The term “Topological insulator” might ,in general English terms, seem contrary given the fact the material is an internal insulator with a conductive surface. Topology in physics pertains to an order of the state of quantum matter.

 In the case of a topological insulator, it is in a state of matter which is dubbed “
quantum spin Hall state”, wherein electrons with opposite spins group together on opposite sides of a conductor to form a semi-conductor. This effect is created due to its spin-orbit coupling and thus doesn’t require an external magnetic field. 

Prof.Charles L. Kane (left) & Prof. Eugene Mele (right)
Prof. Charles Kane with the assistance of Prof. Eugene Mele theorized the quantum spin hall effect and what materials would be classified as topological insulators in 2005. However their experimentation with graphene sheets, a possible proposed prospect, didn’t provide the expected results.


Prof. Laurens Molenkamp (left) & Prof. Shoucheng Zhang (right)
Mercury Telluride was suggested as a possible topological insulator by Prof. Shoucheng Zhang  in 2006.

It was however Prof. Laurens Molenkamp who in 2007 finally established the quantum spin hall state theory with experimental evidence.

The applications of the theory and the topological insulators themselves hold great promise and potential especially in the field of quantum computing, and for that we must acknowledge these gentlemen for their incredible contributions to science and its future. 

Super-Kamiokande Team: Neutrino oscillations 

Neutrino oscillation refers to the oscillation of a neutrino that results in it changing between its different lepton flavours/types (electron,muon and tau).

What is fascinating about these neutrino oscillations is that they contradict the Standard model of particle physics that arbitrates the dynamics and kinematics of subatomic particles. Although the conventional standard model assumed that neutrinos didn’t have a mass and most certainly didn’t oscillate the current model can account for them having masses, but obtaining the specifics still remains a challenge. 

Neutrinos are a creation of radioactive decay or nuclear reactions, such as those that can occur in nuclear reactors, the sun and cosmic rays that hit atoms. Thus research revolves around detecting, observing and measuring these neutrino oscillations from afore mentioned sources. 

Led by the late Prof.Yoji Totsuka and Prof.Takaaki Kajita, The Super-Kamiokande experiment’s focus was on atmospheric neutrino oscillation, and in 1998 provided the first evidence of neutrino oscillation.

Prof. Takaaki Kajita (left) & Prof. Yoji Totsuka (right)
It is the implications of this finding, which not only identifies the gaps and flaws of the standard model allowing leeway for amendment and an improved unified theory but also for the provision of fundamental data for future experiments and theories that demands our respect and recognition.   

Vera Rubin: Dark Matter

Our last but certainly not the least in any way imaginable is the astronomer who discovered dark matter. Dr. Vera Rubin had a rough begin in the sexist scientific community but never stopped reaching for the stars. It is there she discovered her greatest accomplishments. 

Her initial work examining the rotation of galaxies led her to stumble upon the galaxy rotation problem, wherein, by comparing orbital speeds of stars, she observed that the previously assumed theory of central gravitational force concentration of a spiral galaxy was false. 

Rubin and fellow staff member Kent Ford theorized that the only explanation to the problem is that there is an invisible force that is unaccounted for, dubbing it dark matter. Although Dark matter remains a vastly unexplored and controversial subject, uncovering the mere presence of it led to a new field of scientific research. 

Prof.Kent Ford (left) & Prof. Vera Rubin (right)

Although Dr. Rubin doesn’t seek the approbation of the Nobel Prize (which long eluded her for unknown reasons) I feel that it is just, to recognize her achievements and hope that she is soon welcomed into the ranks of the Nobel laureates.

The winners of 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics 

Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano & Shuji Nakamura: Blue LED light

“This year’s Nobel Laureates are rewarded for having invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources” ~Nobel Prize .org
It is fundamental knowledge that the combination of the primary colours of Red, Green and Blue create White.  Although LED technology dates back over 40 years, with the invention of Red and Green diodes, it wasn’t till the early 1990s that the elusive blue diode was developed. 

The difficulty in achieving blue LED stemmed from the intricacy of growing a high quality crystal layer of the semiconductor gallium nitride (which was pertinent for the production of blue light). 

Prof.Shuji Nakamura
Through unyielding efforts and an accidental discovery, the above commended company of gentlemen managed to accomplish the challenging task and move on to devise the long sought after blue LED, enabling the production of bright white light.   

This led to a revolution in lighting technology.

 LED bulbs are far superior to their predecessors the fluorescent bulbs, in that they are more durable, exceedingly more energy efficient (70lm/w of fluorescent to 300lm/w of LED, lm/w being luminescence per watt) and less dangerous. 

Prof.Hiroshi Amano
One fourth of the World’s energy consumption is devoted to lighting, and the global usage of LED bulbs sees an exponential and much needed economy of resources as I mentioned in a previous article.

The energy efficiency of LED bulbs integrated with solar technology will make provision for the illumination of the 20% of the world’s population that lack access to power grids. Another application is water sterilization utilizing UV LEDs derived from blue light LED.

Asaki, Amano and Nakamura also created the first blue laser by using a sand grain sized Blue LED, the real world applications of which ranged from the creation of the Blu-ray player to Environmental monitoring using diode-laser-based spectroscopy to Maglev technology and many more.

Prof. Isamu Akasaki

It is due to the countless contributions of blue LED to other areas of technology that earn it and the team its deserving Nobel Prize. 

Don't agree with the list or have a nomination of your own?

Please leave a piece of your mind below.

Stay tuned at the edge of your seats for the next episode on the frontrunners for the 2014 Nobel Medicine and Physiology Prize.....coming soon to an internet-friendly device near you.