This year’s Nobel Prize, presumably to be given for the prediction of the particle known today as the “Higgs boson”, will be awarded next week. But in the meantime, the American Physical Society has made a large number of awards. A few of them are to people whose work I know about, so I thought I’d tell you just a little about them.
The J. J. Sakurai prize went to Professors Zvi Bern, Lance Dixon and David Kosower, for the work that I have already described on this website here and here. Dixon, a wide-ranging expert in particle physics, quantum field theory and string theory, was a young professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center when I was a Stanford graduate student. He taught an excellent course on string theory, and provided a lot of scientific advice and insight outside the classroom. Bern and Kosower were young scientists using string theory to learn about how to do computations in quantum field theory, and their surprising results formed the starting point for my Ph. D. thesis (which has their names in its title.) The range of their work is hard to describe in a paragraph, but let’s just say that no one is surprised that they were awarded a prize of this magnitude.
The Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics was awarded to my former colleague Greg Moore, a professor at Rutgers University. “For eminent contributions to mathematical physics with a wide influence in many fields, ranging from string theory to supersymmetric gauge theory, conformal field theory, condensed matter physics and four-manifold theory.” Allow me to translate:
- string theory: you’ve heard about it, probably
- supersymmetric gauge theory: quantum field theories with supersymmetry, which I’ll be writing about soon
- conformal field theory: basically, quantum field theories that are scale invariant
- condensed matter physics: the study of solids and liquids and their mechanical and electrical properties, and lots of other things too, in which quantum field theory is sometimes a useful tool
- four-manifold theory: the mathematics of spaces which have four-spatial dimensions, or three-spatial dimensions and one-time dimension. These spaces are very interesting to mathematicians, and also, they’re interesting because we live in one.
This is not the complete range of Moore’s work by any means. Unfortunately this website doesn’t yet have pages that can put his work in proper context, but perhaps I’ll return to it later. But again, no surprise here to see Moore’s name on this award.
The Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics was awarded to experimental physicist William A. Zajc, currently chairman of the Columbia University physics department. Zajc has been heavily involved in one of the most surprising discoveries of the past fifteen years: that a hot dense fireball of quarks, anti-quarks and gluons (produced in the collision of two relatively large atomic nuclei) behaves in a very unexpected way, more like a very low viscosity liquid rather like than a gas. I’ve known him partly because of his interest in the attempts to apply string theory to certain quantum field theories that are perhaps relevant in the modeling of this novel physical system… something I’ll also probably be writing about in the relatively near future.
And the W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics went to Kam-Biu Luk (Berkeley) and Yifang Wang (Director of China’s Institute of High Energy Physics): For their leadership of the Daya Bay experiment, which produced the first definitive measurement of the theta-13 angle of the neutrino mixing matrix. For the same experiment, the Henry Primakoff Award for Early-Career Particle Physics went to Daniel A. Dwyer of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. I wrote about the Daya Bay measurement here; their result is one of the major measurements in particle physics in the past few years.
I wish I knew more about the other recipients outside my areas of expertise, but other bloggers will have to cover those stories.
Anyway, no surprises, but some very deserving scientists. Let’s see if next Tuesday brings the same result.