Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from David Appell

Nobel Physics

Today’s New York Times article didn’t explain it very well, but the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded this morning is for the discovery of “asymptotic freedom,” a bizarre property of quarks and gluons. Unlike every other force discovered to date,…

  • October 5, 2004

Today’s New York Times article didn’t explain it very well, but the Nobel Prize in Physics awarded this morning is for the discovery of “asymptotic freedom,” a bizarre property of quarks and gluons. Unlike every other force discovered to date, quarks and gluons experience something quite different–a force that is negligible at small distances and that grows larger with distance. Amazingly, as two quarks are separated in space, their force of attraction increases. That’s completely unlike anything seen in the gravitational or electromagnetic realm.

Why does this matter? Of course, it matters if you’re looking to understand the very fundamental construction of the universe. But it also matters if you’re trying to understand the collisions of very large atomic nuclei such as uranium, where what’s thought to happen is the construction of a quark-gluon plasma.

It’s difficult, at the moment, to see a practical application for the work on asymptotic freedom. But it would hardly be the first time a Nobel on an obscure process has led to new developments. The 1971 Prize to Dennis Gabor for holograms is a case in point. A couple of prizes in quantum electronics (1956, 1964) have proved their worth in the computer revolution. Even prizes like that of 1936, for the discovery of the positron, while once theoretical and abstract, have proven themselves prescient with the development of the positron-emission tomograph and perhaps even the positron-electron bomb. This year’s prize has the same feel to it – that 30 years from now engineers will be deciding what to do with it.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.