Nobel Prize in physics awarded

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A Russian, a Russian-American and a Briton who also has U.S. citizenship will share this year's Nobel Prize in physics for theories about how matter can show bizarre behaviour at extremely low temperatures.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Alexei A. Abrikosov, 75, Anthony J. Leggett, 65, and Vitaly L. Ginzburg, 87, for their work concerning two phenomena called superconductivity and superfluidity. Abrikosov is a Russian and American citizen based at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois; Ginzburg is a Russian based at the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow; and Leggett is a British and American citizen based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The prize money, equivalent to about $1.75 million Cdn, will be shared equally among the three winners.

Leggett said he was surprised. "I guess it had occurred to me that it was a possibility I might get the Nobel Prize, but I didn't think it was particularly probable," he said.

Abrikosov, on the other hand, said the news didn't shock him. He said he had been nominated several times before, but this year the Nobel committee notified him that he was a candidate. "And since this had never happened before, I saw this as a good sign," he said.

"I feel now relief," he added. "I had lost hope of winning . . . But I thought my life is good even without (the Nobel Prize). I have interesting work. I am happy. I love my family."

Reached by phone at the Lebedev institute, Ginzburg said he had long given up hope of ever receiving a Nobel.

"They have been nominating me for about 30 years, so in that sense it didn't come out of the blue," he said. "But I thought, 'Well, they're not giving it to me, I guess that's it.' After all, there are a lot of contenders. So, you know, I had long ago forgotten to think about this."

Asked how he was planning to celebrate, he said: "I haven't thought about it yet. Now I'm supposed to write a paper and if I'm healthy, I'll go to Sweden."

The two phenomena the researchers studied are linked, in that superconductivity arises from how pairs of electrons behave, while superfluidity comes about from pairings of atoms.

Superconductivity is the ability of some materials to conduct electricity without resistance when they are chilled to extremely low temperatures. Superconducting magnets are used to produce powerful magnetic fields for the standard body scanning technique called magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Other discoveries concerning MRI were honoured Monday with the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Researchers hope to harness superconductivity for such uses as power lines that can conduct current without waste to resistance and high-speed trains that float above their tracks.

Abrikosov and Ginzburg were honoured for theories about superconductivity that they started developing in the 1950s.

Leggett, meanwhile, applied ideas about superconductivity to explain how atoms behave in one kind of "superfluid" in the 1970s. His theory has proven useful for other fields of physics, like the study of particles and of the universe, the Swedish academy said.

Superfluidity occurs when liquid helium is chilled to near absolute zero, the coldest anything can get. The liquid begins to flow freely with little apparent friction. It can even climb up the sides of a beaker.

Phil Schewe, a physicist and chief science writer at the American Institute of Physics, said superfluidity doesn't appear to have as many applications as superconductivity. But "it may well prove to be important just because it is so odd," he said.

The Swedish academy said researchers can use superfluid helium to study other physical phenomena, like how order can turn to chaos. Such research might illuminate the ways in which turbulence arises, "one of the last unsolved problems of classical physics," the Swedish academy said.

A Japanese and two American astrophysicists won last year's prize for using some of the most obscure particles and waves in nature to increase understanding of the universe.

Riccardo Giacconi, 71, of Associated Universities Inc. in Washington, D.C., was cited for his role in "pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources."

Raymond Davis Jr., 87, of the University of Pennsylvania and Japanese scientist Masatoshi Koshiba, 76, of the University of Tokyo, were awarded for their construction of giant underground chambers to detect neutrinos, elusive particles that stream from the sun by the billion.

This year's Nobel awards started last week with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in literature to South Africa author J. M. Coetzee.

On Monday, American Paul C. Lauterbur, 74, and Briton Sir Peter Mansfield, 70, were selected by a committee at the Karolinska Institute for the 2003 Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries leading to development of the MRI body-scanning technique.

The winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry will be named on Wednesday morning and the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel later the same day.

The winner of the coveted Peace Prize — the only one not awarded in Sweden — will be announced Friday in Oslo, Norway.

Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the prizes, left only vague guidelines for the selection committees.

In his will he said the physics prize should be given to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics."

The academy, which also chooses the chemistry and economics winners, invited nominations from previous recipients and experts in the fields before cutting down its choices.

The prizes, which include a gold medal and a diploma, are presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896, in Stockholm and in Oslo, Norway.

Excerpts from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' citation for the 2003 Nobel Prize in physics.

The award went to Alexei A. Abrikosov, Anthony J. Leggett and Vitaly L. Ginzburg.

This year's Nobel Prize in physics is awarded to three physicists who have made decisive contributions concerning two phenomena in quantum physics: superconductivity and superfluidity. Superconducting material is used, for example, in magnetic resonance imaging for medical examinations and particle accelerators in physics. Knowledge about superfluid liquids can give us deeper insight into the ways in which matter behaves in its lowest and most ordered state.

At low temperatures (a few degrees above absolute zero) certain metals allow an electric current to pass without resistance. Such superconducting materials also have the property of being able to displace magnetic flows completely or partly. Those that displace magnetic flows completely are called type-I superconductors and a theory explaining them was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1972.

This theory, which is based on the fact that pairs of electrons are formed proved, however, to be inadequate for explaining superconductivity in the technically most important materials. These type-II superconductors allow superconductivity and magnetism to exist at the same time and remain superconductive in high magnetic fields.

Alexei Abrikosov succeeded in explaining this phenomenon theoretically. His starting point was a theory that had been formulated for type-I superconductors by Vitaly Ginzburg and others, but which proved to be so comprehensive that it was also valid for the new type. Although these theories were formulated in the 1950s, they have gained renewed importance in the rapid development of materials with completely new properties. Materials can now be made superconductive at increasingly high temperatures and strong magnetic fields.

Liquid helium can become superfluid, that is, its viscosity vanishes at low temperatures. Atoms of the rare isotope . . . have to form pairs analogous with pairs of electrons in metallic superconductors. The decisive theory explaining how the atoms interact and are ordered in the superfluid state was formulated in the 1970s by Anthony Leggett. Recent studies show how this order passes into chaos or turbulence, which is one of the unsolved problems of classical physics.

Recent winners of the Nobel Prize in physics, and their research, according to the Nobel Foundation:

— 2003: Alexei A. Abrikosov and Anthony J. Leggett of the United States, and Vitaly L. Ginzburg of Russia for their work concerning two phenomena called superconductivity and superfluidity.

— 2002: Raymond Davis, Jr., United States, and Masatoshi Koshiba, Japan, for their research into cosmic neutrinos; and Riccardo Giacconi, United States, for pioneering contributions to astrophysics that led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources.

— 2001: Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman, United States, and U.S.-based researcher Wolfgang Ketterle of Germany for creating a new state of matter, an ultra-cold gas known as Bose-Einstein condensate.

— 2000: Zhores I. Alferov, Russia, U.S.-based researcher Herbert Kroemer of Germany and American Jack Kilby for work that helped create modern information technology.

— 1999: Gerardus 't Hooft and Martinus J.G. Veltman, Netherlands, for their theoretical work on the structure and motion of subatomic particles.

— 1998: Robert B. Laughlin, United States, Horst L. Stoermer, Germany, and Daniel C. Tsui, United States, for discovering a new form of quantum fluid that gives more profound insights into the general inner structure and dynamics of matter.

— 1997: Steven Chu and William D. Phillips of the United States and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji of France, for their work in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light.

— 1996: David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff and Robert C. Richardson, United States, for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3.

— 1995: Martin L. Perl and Frederick Reines, United States, for pioneering experimental contributions to lepton physics.

— 1994: Bertram N. Brockhouse, Canada, and Clifford G. Shull, United States, for developing methods of neutron scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter.

— 1993: Russell A. Hulse and Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., United States, for finding a twin star: a binary pulsar that helped prove Einstein's theory of relativity.

— 1992: Georges Charpak, France, for developing particle detectors and the multiwire proportional chamber.

— 1991: Pierres-Gilles de Gennes, France, for developing systems for analysing complex matter such as liquid crystals and polymers.

— 1990: Jerome I. Friedman and Henry W. Kendall, United States, and Richard E. Taylor, Canada, for investigating the scattering of electrons and refining models of quarks.

— 1989: Norman F. Ramsey and Hans G. Dehmelt, United States, and Wolfgang Paul, West Germany, for inventing methods used in atomic clocks and ion trap techniques.

— 1988: Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, United States, for developing the neutrino beam and discovering new types of neutrinos.

— 1987: J. Georg Bednorz, West Germany, K. Alexander Muller, Switzerland, for work revealing superconductivity in ceramics.

— 1986: Ernst Ruska and Gerd Binnig, West Germany, and Heinrich Rohrer, Switzerland, for designing the electron and scanning tunnelling microscopes.

— 1985: Klaus von Klitzing, West Germany, for discovering the quantized Hall effect.

— 1984: Carlo Rubbia, Italy, and Simon van der Meer, Netherlands, for contributions to discovery of field particles involved in weak interaction.

— 1983: Subramanyan Chandrasekhar and William A. Fowler, United States, for theories explaining the chemical and physical process between stars and the universe.

— 1982: Kenneth G. Wilson, United States, for developing the theory of phase transitions.

— 1981: Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur L. Schawlow, United States, and Kai M. Siegbahn, Sweden, for contributing to development of laser and electron spectroscopy.

— 1980: James Cronin, Val Fitch, United States, for discovering new aspects of neutral K-mesons.