Nobel Words in Physics, 1966-2013

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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 celebrate the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics on October 7th, we have been highlighting the accomplishments of some of the scientists who have won the Prize. Part I: 1901-1965 is available here. Here are some of the more unusual sounding accomplishments which won the Nobel from 1966-2013:

  • Murray Gell-Mann discovered quarks, one of the fundamental building blocks of all particles. He won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for this work. In his personal history, The Quark and the Jaguar, he describes how he arrived at the name.  Starting with the sound that he wanted, he found the spelling in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Dennis Gabor explaining a diagram drawn on a blackboard.
  • Louis Néel discovered the concepts of ferrimagnetism and antiferromagnetism, which helped advance solid state physics. Néel was awarded 1/2 of the 1970 Nobel Prize for this work.
  • In 1948, Dennis Gabor began experiments hoping to make an improved electron microscope, but instead discovered the holographic method. There are different types of holography: electron holography produces holograms of electron waves; optical holography became popular with the general population after the invention of the laser. Gabor won the Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1971. 
  • Leo Esaki invented the Esaki tunnel diode, an early quantum electron device. He received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his work pioneering electron tunneling in solids with semiconductors.
  • During a survey of the sky, Antony Hewish and his graduate student, Jocelyn Bell, discovered pulsars (dead, massive stars which are highly magnetized and rotate quickly). Bell noticed the weekly changes of one source during the survey and following more detailed observations, it was determined that the signal was pulsed and, therefore, from a pulsar. Hewish received 1/2 of the 1974 Nobel Prize for his critical role in this discovery.
  • Samuel Ting and Burton Richter discovered the heavy J/Ψ (J/Psi) particle in 1974. This discovery proved the existence of a fourth quark which was later named “charm.” Richter and Ting shared the Nobel Prize in 1976 for this discovery. Samuel Ting shaking hands with Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, at the 1976 Nobel Award Ceremony. Photo by Jan Collsioo, Pressens Bild AB.
  • Val Fitch and James Cronin discovered that matter-antimatter symmetry (the idea that physical laws are the same if matter is replaced by antimatter) is violated in the decay of the neutral K-meson. Fitch and Cronin also showed that symmetry does not exist under time-reversal. Their discovery became known as the CP violation (Charge Parity violation) and they shared the Nobel Prize in 1980 for this work.
  • In 1983, K. Alex Müller and J. Georg Bednorz began working to find high-temperature superconducting oxides. They started creating ceramics from metallic oxide mixtures and found that the possibility of high-temperature superconductivity existed. Müller and Bednorz received the 1987 Nobel Prize for this discovery. 
  • The 1988 Nobel Prize was awarded to Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz, and Jack Steinberger for their discoveries regarding neutrinos (ν; massless, uncharged particles which can sometimes interact with matter to produce an electron). The team used a high energy accelerator to produce a beam of neutrinos (ν). They also discovered that when matter and neutrinos (ν) interact, occasionally a muon (µ) is produced instead of an electron, revealing a new type of neutrino, the muonneutrino (νµ).  K. Alex Müller, Paul Chu, and Shoji Tanaka. This image shows a session on superconductivity at the American Physical Society (APS) March 1987 meeting. Known as the ‘Woodstock of Physics,’ this session announced the development of high-temperature superconducting materials.
  • In the 1980s, Albert Fert and his team were measuring the magnetoresistive effect of multilayers of iron/chromium (Fe/Cr). The team found that the magnetoresistance rose as the thickness of the chromium layers decreased; they dubbed this giant magnetoresistance. Simultaneously and independently, Peter Grünberg and his team were observing the same effect. Fert and Grünberg shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for this discovery.
  • François Englert and Robert Brout and, separately, Peter Higgs published the theory of how particles acquire mass in 1964. Both forms of the theory describe a particle, now known as the Higgs particle, which originates from an invisible field filling all space. Particles acquire mass from coming into contact with this field. Brout passed away in 2011; Englert and Higgs shared the 2013 Nobel Prize for this theory.[i]

[i] Information adapted from the website of the Nobel Prize in Physics,