It is beyond dispute that the subject matter of physics demands high level of intellectual ingenuity, mathematical prowess and, above all, perseverance to muster the subject. It is not the subject matter that one can just browse through relevant books, learn by highlighting some key points and fill in the details later with creative flavour, as could be done in history or politics or sociology etc. Either you learn physics by hard graft or you are just monkeying around with it.
Physics had advanced a lot since late 19th century. There is a very interesting anecdote involving Max Planck, the pioneer of quantum mechanics. When Max Planck, an aspiring physics student in late 19th century, approached a professor of physics seeking advice on the prospect of a research career in physics, he was told by the respected professor that there was nothing more in physics to discover and any research work would only involve in better accuracy of known physical quantities to higher decimal figures. However, Max Planck doggedly pursued his physics career and in less than fifteen years of that advice laid the foundation of a new branch of physics, called the quantum mechanics, which is still being pursued most vigorously nearly 120 years later today.
From minutest particles called quarks in particle physics to the mind-boggling expanse of cosmology, universe and even multiverse and the theory of relativity, gravitational waves, dark matter and dark energy; physics is the field that excites the brightest minds of the world today. Theoretical studies and experimental works requiring billions of dollars are pushing forward this field at utmost vigour.
To get a glimpse of the cutting edges in physics, one may look at the advanced topics that the Nobel Committee had recently recognised and rewarded. The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded 111 times, from 1901 to 2017, to 207 Laureates, with gaps in 6 years due to world wars and great depression. The list of Nobel Laureates from 2000 to 2017 are given below in reverse chronological order.
Year Nobel Laureate(s) Research topic
2017 Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish For the decisive contribution to the LIGO and Kip S Thorne detector and the observation of gravitational waves
2016 David J Thouless, F Duncan M For theoretical discoveries of topological phase Haldane and J Michael Kosterlitz transitions and topological phases of matter
2015 Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B For the discovery of neutrino oscillations McDonald showing neutrinos have mass
2014 Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano For the invention of efficient blue light- emitting and Shuji Nakamura diodes which enabled bright energy saving white light sources
2013 Francois Englert and Peter For theoretical discovery and understanding of W Higgs origin of mass in subatomic particles, which was confirmed in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider
2012 Serge Haroche and David J For experimental methods enabling measurement Wineland and manipulation of individual quantum systems
2011 Saul Perlmutter, Brian P For discovery of accelerating expansion of the Schmidt and Adam G Riess Universe through observations of distant supernovae
2010 Andre Geim and Konstantin For experiment on two-dimensional material Novoselov graphene
2009 Charles Kuen Kao For work concerning transmission of light in fibres for optical communication Willard S Boyle and George For invention of imaging semiconductor E Smith circuit – CCD sensor
2008 Yoichiro Nambu For the discovery of mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics Makoto Kobayashi and For the origin of broken symmetry predicting Toshihide Maskawa existence of at least three families of quarks in nature
2007 Albert Fert and Peter For the discovery of Giant Magneto resistance Grunberg
2006 John C Mather and George For anisotropy of the cosmic microwave F Smoot background radiation
2005 Roy J Glauber For quantum theory of optical coherence John L Hall and Theodor For the development of laser-based precision W Hansch precision spectroscopy
2004 David J Gross, H David For the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the Politzer and Frank Wilczek in the theory of strong interaction
2003 Alexei A Abrikosov, Vitaly L For contributions to the theory of superconductors Ginzburg and Anthony J Leggett and super-fluids
2002 Raymond Davis Jr. and For contributions to the detection of cosmic Masatoshi neutrinos Riccardo Giacconi For contributions to the discovery of cosmic cosmic X-ray sources
2001 Eric A Cornell, Wolfgang For Bose-Einstein condensation of dilute gases of Ketterle alkali atoms and studies of the properties of the condensates
2000 Zhores I Alferov and For the development of semiconductor hetero- Herbert Kroemer structures used in high-speed opto-electronics Jack S Kilby Invention of integrated circuit
From a cursory glance at the table above, one can pick out some important points:
First, the mind-boggling expanse of the universe entailing cosmology and the minutest world of particle physics requiring quantum mechanics are the two most dominant fields of advanced physics. They may be at the two extreme ends of dimensional scale, but they are interconnected, as planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, quasars etc. are all made up of tiniest quantum particles and these giant astronomical bodies came into being due to quantum fluctuations at the very beginning of creation.
Secondly, there seems to be disproportionately large number of Japanese physicists, from a small country, who were successful in receiving Nobel prizes. This may be due to their value system, since WWII, where they concentrated on furtherance of knowledge than on military hardware or political dominance.
Thirdly, on religious grounds, Jews seems to be extremely successful in achieving highest accolades in physics. This is not only since the year 2000 listed above, but also from the very beginning of Nobel prizes. All the top quantum physicists, from Max Planck to Wolfgang Pauli, to Neils Bohr, Albert Einstein, Erwin Josef Schrodinger, Paul Ehrenfest and so forth were all Jews. No wonder, Hitler once dubbed quantum physics as the Jewish science! A tiny population of 16 million people worldwide, comprising less than 0.25% of world population, Jews received over 80 of 207 of Nobel prizes (nearly 40%) in physics!
As an aside, 1600 million Muslims comprising over 22% of world population received no Nobel prize in physics! Although one and only one Muslim, Prof. Abdus Salam, from Pakistan was awarded a physics Nobel prize in 1979, but Pakistan declared him non-Muslim as he belonged to an Islamic sect, Ahmadi, which Pakistan declared non-Muslim in 1974. Religion in Islamic countries overrides almost everything. In Islam, it is stated that all knowledge comes from Allah and it had been handed down in the religious book of Islam, called Quran, and individuals must derive knowledge from it. No wonder, there is a severe dearth of pioneering physics practitioners in the Muslim world leading to Noble prizes in physics!
– A. Rahman is an author and a columnist.