Nobel Words in Physics, 1901-1965

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By Molly Marcusse, Archives Assistant

Physics is rife with words and phrases that may sound strange to the layperson. Many of these words relate to remarkable and fascinating concepts. To lead up to the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics on October 7th, here are some of the more unusual sounding accomplishments which won the Nobel from 1901-1965:

  • Gabriel Lippman invented the coelostat, a device that immobilizes the image of a star and the stars surrounding it, allowing a photograph to be taken. Lippman won the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his method of reproducing colors in photography. First image of a positron track by C. D. Anderson. Published in “Positrons from Gamma Rays” by Carl Anderson and Seth Neddermeyer, Physical Review, v. 43, 1933.
  • Paul Dirac received the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his contributions to atomic theory. He hypothesized that there must be a positively charged particle to correspond with the electron, which he named this particle the positron. It was confirmed through experimentation by Carl Anderson in 1932, who won the Nobel Prize for this in 1936. 
  • Ernest Lawrence invented the cyclotron, a device which accelerates nuclear particles without using high voltages. These accelerated particles were directed at nuclei of various elements, creating some entirely new elements and leading to the discovery of hundreds of radioactive isotopes of the then-known elements. He received the Nobel Prize for this work in 1939.
  • Wolfgang Pauli discovered the neutrino, which is a massless uncharged particle. Pauli won the Nobel Prize in 1945 for his exclusion principle.
  • Hideki Yukawa received the Nobel Prize in 1949 for his prediction of the meson in 1934. The protons and neutrons of atomic nuclei are kept together by a strong force, which Yukawa predicted is carried by particles he named mesons.
  • In 1947, Cecil Powell was conducting experiments with cosmic rays using a photographic emulsion he had developed himself; through this he discovered pi-mesons (now known as pions). He won the Nobel Prize for this new method of detecting subatomic particles in 1950.
  • Emilio Segré and Owen Chamberlain won the Nobel Prize in 1959 for their discovery of the antiproton. The group continued their work, using antiprotons to produce antineutrons. Image from an antiproton experiment.
  • Donald Glaser invented the bubble chamber in 1952 after exploring a number of experimental techniques – such as diffusion cloud chambers – to study the strange particles of physics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for this invention in 1960.
  • Early in 1957 Julian Schwinger predicted the existence of two neutrinos, one associated with the electron and the other with the muon. These were later confirmed by experimentation. Schwinger won the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work, which helped advance the theory of quantum electrodynamics.[*]

Check back in a few weeks when we reveal more words and discoveries whose creators won the Nobel Prize from 1966-2013.

[*] Information adapted from the website of the Nobel Prize in Physics, www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/