The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

Ok. So who was surprised by this one? My hand is not up… is yours? (That’s a screen shot from the Nobel Prize site to the left. More here. Cheeky of me, but it’s early in the morning and I’ve got to pack, shower, and cycle like mad to the subway to get to my train to Santa Barbara, so time is of the essence.)

I was pretty sure that this would be the prize sometime very soon, although I’ll not say that I knew it would be this year’s for sure. It is well deserved, since this was a genuinely major change in how everyone in the field thinks about the universe, and we’re still trying to get to grips with it today. The acceleration of the universe that they discovered still needs to be understood, and it can’t be ignored, since in one way of looking at the problem, it is saying that about 73% of the matter-energy budget of the universe is made of a form of energy known as “dark energy”. We don’t yet know what dark energy is and what its origins are. If it is vacuum energy (as many suspect), an intrinsic tendency of space to want to expand (the reverse of what a rubber band likes to do, for example) then that is a nice solution in terms of how it behaves (and we have the right equations to describe it nicely) but it still does not tell us what the origins of it is…. certainly not at the quantum level, where anything other than an infinite vacuum energy is difficult to compute convincingly.

Anyway, this is a great subject for the prize… Congratulations, winners!

-cvj

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3 Responses to The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

  1. Yvette says:

    My hand is only up in surprise right now because while this is an awesome discovery hello folks, Vera Rubin still doesn’t have one for discovering dark matter and isn’t getting any younger at 83 years old! And in the proper order of things it seems strange to award one for dark energy before dark matter…

    It’s a little disheartening honestly.

  2. Clifford says:

    Yvette,

    That’s a really good point actually…. I wonder what the story is there….

    -cvj

  3. Amy says:

    Well, the peace prize went to three women, so the Nobel committee probably didn’t want to OVERDO it with the woman thing. I mean, God forbid. 😉

    Also, I think this two minute animated film about the physics prize is pretty cute.

    http://www.wimp.com/physicsexplained/