More 60-Second Science
[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
The 2008 Nobel Prize in physics goes to an American and two Japanese scientists for work related to symmetry.
In the early 1960s, Yoichiro Nambu of the Enrico Fermi Institute in Chicago developed a mathematical description of what is known as spontaneous broken symmetry related to subatomic particles. The breaking of symmetry scrambles the underlying order of nature. Nambu’s work was instrumental in some unscrambling, namely the later unification of three of the four basic forces—the weak force, strong force and electromagnetism.
The other laureates are Makato Kobayashi of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba, Japan, and Toshihide Maskawa of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto. They discovered different broken symmetries in the early 1970s, which predicted the existence of three kinds of quarks, which were later discovered. Their kind of broken symmetry is at the heart of the big bang. Full symmetry would have snuffed the Big Bang, but a tiny deviation of an extra matter particle for every 10 billion matter-antimatter particle pairs is apparently what allowed the universe to come into existence.