Yakir Aharonov misses out on Nobel Prize

Aharonov aims to become

By JUDY SIEGEL, JPOST.COM STAFF, AP
October 6, 2009 02:13
3 minute read.

 
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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday did not award Tel Aviv University professor Yakir Aharonov with the 2009 Nobel Prize in the field of physics. Instead, three scientists who created the technology behind digital photography and helped link the world through fiber-optic networks shared the prize. Charles K. Kao was cited for his breakthrough involving the transmission of light in fiber optics, while Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were honored for inventing an imaging semiconductor circuit known as the CCD sensor. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said all three have American citizenship. Kao also holds British citizenship while Boyle is also Canadian. The award's 10 million kronor ($1.4 million) purse will be split between the three with Kao taking half and Boyle and Smith each getting a fourth. The three also receive a diploma and an invitation to prize ceremonies in Stockholm on December 10. The last three Israelis to become laureates were Prof. Robert Aumann (economics) in 2005 and Prof. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanov (chemistry) in 2004. The others were Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres (peace), Prof. Daniel Kahneman (economics) and Shmuel Y. Agnon (literature). Aharonov, a 77-year-old specialist in quantum physics, is professor emeritus at TAU and a professor of theoretical physics at Chapman University in Orange County, California, and at the University of South Carolina. Born in Haifa, he and the late US/British (Jewish) Prof. David Bohm proposed exactly 50 years ago the Aharonov-Bohm Effect and the related Berry Phase (with Prof. Michael Berry of the University of Bristol in the UK). Aharonov and Bohm said that the form of the quantum-mechanical coupling of electromagnetic fields to electrons had some very counterintuitive implications for the behavior of electrons. Specifically, electrons passing through field-free regions that surrounded a region of magnetic flux would acquire different phases, depending on whether they passed to the left or to the right of the flux tube. The phase difference, which can be measured in an interference experiment, depends on the flux enclosed. The controversial AB effect has been observed, and has, in fact become an experimental tool in the domain of mesoscopic physics. The effect clearly shows that in quantum theory, the essence of electromagnetic forces is significantly different from the way in which they function in classical physics. Aharonov had been on the short list for the prize, according to researchers at Thomson Reuters' Healthcare and Science. Next week, TAU will open a scientific conference in honor of Aharonov's 50 years of scientific world. It will be attended by leading scientists from around the world, including Prof. David Gross, a 2004 Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Aharonov received his bachelor's of science degree at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, followed by his graduate studies there and at the University of Bristol. He held a joint professorship at TAU and the University of South Carolina for 33 years until 2006 and also taught at Yeshiva University in New York. During his half-century of research, Aharonov discovered many effects, including the one named for him and Bohm, which has since been considered as one of the main discoveries in quantum theory in the second part of the 20th century. The surprising discovery, which was controversial until demonstrated in numerous experiments, proved that in quantum theory, particles can be sensitive to forces that are localized far away from them. He is a member of the Israeli and American Academies of Science and has received a long list of prizes, including the Weizmann Prize, the Rothschild Award, the Israel Prize in Physics (1989), the Wolf Foundation Prize, the Elliot-Cresson medal of the Franklin Institute and the Hewlett-Packard Europhysics Prize. Aharonov said this week during a visit to Canada that his name had been raised several times in the competition for a Nobel Prize but that this was the first in which the suggestion was based on an objective assessment, "based on citations by the most outstanding scientists."

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