Advanced science, International, Technical

Cutting edge in Physics

Nobel Laureates

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Bangladesh, International, Life as it is, Political, Technical

How noble are the Nobel Peace Prize winners?

The Nobel Committee has at times tarnished the sanctity of the peace prize by awarding it to terrorists, warmongers, mass murderers and human rights violators.

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Out of 215 individuals and 103 organizations nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, it was awarded to ICAN ‒ the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. According to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, “The organization is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

By honouring ICAN with the prize, the committee has adhered to the intended purpose of the award which, as stated in Nobel’s will, should be awarded to individuals and institutions that “have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.

Since the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, peace prizes have been perhaps the most controversial of all the Nobel prizes. The endless controversies surrounding the prize stems not only from the ambiguity of the concept of peace on this war-torn planet, but also from the increasing geopolitical pressure that influences the selection of the recipients.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s refusal to stop the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas by her proxy government, the Myanmar Army, in the country’s Rakhine state begs the following questions: How noble are the Nobel Peace Prize winners? In choosing the recipient(s), does the Nobel Prize Committee comply with the rules as outlined in Nobel’s will?

Not everyone who wins a Nobel Peace Prize is undeserving. However, the committee more often stretched the interpretation of the rules by giving the prize to people with despicable pasts, or who have gone on to launch wars or escalate them after receiving the prize. Listed below are some of the most controversial peace laureates of the last fifty years.

Leading the pack of the not so noble Nobel laureates is the U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who condoned the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh and was instrumental in the ouster of the Chilean President Salvador Allende in favor of the military dictator Augusto Pinochet. He shared the 1973 prize with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho for negotiating the truce that ended the Vietnam War. Ironically, at the time of the award, Kissinger was spearheading the carpet-bombing of neighbouring Cambodia, which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Le Duc Tho declined the award, one of the two laureates ever to do so, saying “peace has not yet been established.” The other was Jean-Paul Sartre, who too declined the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature because, according to him, “all the honours he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable.”

Four years after sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat for their Camp David peace accord, Israeli leader Menachem Begin, once a member of the terrorist organization Irgun, ordered the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Sadat was no saint either. He was a ruthless dictator who used the state’s security apparatchik to silence his opponents, including Mohammed Heikal, a distinguished journalist of the Arab world and editor of Egypt’s leading newspaper Al-Ahram.

Begin’s terrorist compatriot Yitzhak Rabin and the man responsible for developing Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, Shimon Peres, shared the 1994 prize with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, often dubbed as the Father of Modern Terrorism, for signing the Oslo Accords. Two years after the award, Peres was responsible for the Qana massacre in Lebanon. Needless to say, the Oslo Accords have not brought a lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The conflict still persists with the merchant of death Benjamin Netanyahu using weapons of mass destruction to kill women, children and unarmed civilians.

South Africa’s F. W. De Klerk, a staunch supporter and practitioner of apartheid, won the prize in 1993 for his role in the abolition of the apartheid laws. This racist bigot shared the prize with Nelson Mandela, an international emblem of “dignity and forbearance” who, in the fight to emancipate his people from white minority rule, served 27 years in prison.

The award given to Barack Obama in 2009 just nine months after taking office as the President of the United States is a reflection of the committee’s penchant for giving out peace prizes over expectations, and not results. By the time Obama came to Oslo to collect the prize, he had ordered the tripling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, stepped up missile strikes and significantly extended the use of drones in the war against terrorism. The drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria have killed more civilians than terrorists. After receiving the award, he was engaged in more war than his predecessors. Surely, Obama didn’t turn out to be the kind of peacemaker the committee had anticipated.

One of the biggest blunders in the history of Nobel Prize is the prize that never was. Although nominated five times between 1937 and 1948, Mahatma Gandhi, the epitome of non-violent struggle, has not been awarded the honour, not even posthumously. According to the Nobel Committee, they could not find a “suitable living person” deserving of the prize in 1948, the year of Gandhi’s death.

Under the rules governing the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, there was nothing to preclude the posthumous conferral of the award. In 1974, the rule for posthumous award has been changed to “work produced by a person since deceased shall not be given an award,” unless death has occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. Yet, in 2011, Ralph Steinman, who died three days prior to the announcement, was awarded the prize for medicine.

The Nobel Committee, which rarely concedes a mistake, eventually acknowledged that not awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhi was a mistake. When the prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama in 1989, the chairman of the committee atoned for the mistake by saying that this was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.” What a joke!

Coming back to Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1991 she was portrayed by the Nobel Committee as the champion of “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights,” applauded for her “courage in the face of tyranny,” hailed as Myanmar’s Mandela and called a Gandhi-type leader by many. Today, her bewildering silence and “complicity in the deadly tyranny being visited on the Rohingya” show that she is an ignoble Nobel laureate engaged in crimes against humanity. She belongs in the refuse heap of history.

The Nobel Committee has tarnished the sanctity of the peace prize by awarding it to terrorists, warmongers, mass murderers and human rights violators. The committee also has a propensity to award the prize to the Most Valuable Player of the season. It doesn’t wait until the player has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, or like Suu Kyi, into the Hall of Shame. Moreover, the award to Kissinger, whose hands are stained with the blood of Cambodians and Vietnamese, proves that the driving force behind the committee’s decision is not always the word “peace.”

The writer, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.