Half of the award will go to Yoichiro Nambu from the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute “for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics”.
Nambu first developed a mathematical description of spontaneous broken symmetry in elementary particle physics back in 1960.
The theory helped give rise to the Standard Model of elementary particle physics, which unifies the smallest building blocks of all matter and three of nature’s four forces in one single theory.
Meanwhile, Makoto Kobayashi from Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) and Toshihide Maskawa from Kyoto University’s Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP) will each receive a quarter of the total sum “for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature”.
“It’s a great honour. I couldn’t believe it,” Kobayashi told Swedish Radio in an
Asked whether he had considered the possibility of one day winning the
award, he replied: “No, I didn’t expect it.”
The Kobayashi and Maskawa stumbled upon a different set of broken symmetries during particle experiments in 1964. Their findings suggested that these spontaneous occurrences had existed in nature since the universe began.
Scientists have only recently been able to confirm subsequent findings made by the pair in 1972 in which they explained broken symmetry within the framework of the Standard Model, but required that the Model be extended to three families of quarks.
Separate experiments in the United States and Japan carried out in 2001 detected broken symmetries independently of each other, just as Kobayashi and Maskawa had predicted nearly 30 years earlier.
While work by the three prize winners has advanced particle physics, another broken symmetry continues to puzzle physicist grappling with how to explain the origins of the universe, according to a statement by the Nobel Committee.
Specifically, researchers are still trying to explain a broken symmetry which is thought to have occurred 14 billion years ago at the time of the Big Bang which many theorize is the reason why the universe survived.
The announcement was made by the Nobel Committee shortly after noon in Stockholm and marks the second the 2008 Nobel Prize announcement following Monday’s pronouncement that the Nobel Prize for Medicine.