U of C Professor Wins Nobel Prize

Nambu recognized for subatomic physics discovery.

CHICAGO -- Retired University of Chicago physicist Yoichiro Nambu was awakened Tuesday by a phone call the 87-year-old had almost given up on ever receiving.

About 48 years after discovering a mechanism called spontaneous broken symmetry, Nambu had won the 2008 Nobel Prize in physics, along with two Japanese citizens, for discoveries that help explain the behavior of the smallest particles of matter.

"I was asleep when I got the call" from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Nambu told The Associated Press early Tuesday. "I was surprised and honored."

Nambu shares the $1.4 million prize with Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, who were recognized for discovering the origin of the broken symmetry that predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature. The trio also will receive a diploma and an invitation to Dec. 10 ceremonies in Stockholm.

The Japanese-born Nambu moved to the United States in 1952 and has worked at the University of Chicago for 48 years. He became a U.S. citizen in 1970.

Nambu introduced his description of spontaneous symmetry violation into particle physics in 1960.

"I've been told for many years that I was on the list (to get the award)," he said Tuesday. "I had almost given up."

Nambu's wife, Chieko, said she also was awakened by the early morning phone call but heard only her husband's side of the conversation -- repeated "thank yous," and "I'm honored."

"I had given up on him getting the honor," Chieko Nambu said. "He had been nominated so many times, so I thought he was being teased," she said. "When he told me the call was from Sweden, the first thing I thought was what will he wear?"

Nambu said he knows the physicists he is sharing the Nobel with very well.

"I always thought their work would win the Nobel Prize," he said. "I am honored to share the prize with them."

The academy said the trio "presented theoretical insights that give us a deeper understanding of what happens far inside the tiniest building blocks of matter."

Nambu, the 82nd person associated with university to win a Nobel, and the 28th to win the prize in physics, said he accepts the fact many people don't quite understand what it is he discovered.

In physics, the idea of symmetry refers to a kind of equality or equivalence in a situation. At the subatomic level, for example, you should not be able to tell whether you are watching events unfold directly or in a mirror, or whether a movie of those events is running forward or backward. And particles should behave just like their alter egos, called antiparticles.

If any of these rules is violated, the symmetry is broken.

Nambu introduced his description of spontaneous symmetry violation into particle physics in 1960.

The Nobel citation said Nambu's theories now permeate the Standard Model of physics, which is the basic theory of how the universe operates. For example, they help explain why different particles have different masses.

Nambu's honor adds another Nobel winner to the University of Chicago ranks, who have most often been recognized in the field of economics.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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