Feynman at the Nobel Awards Dinner

May 12, 2015

Photos tell a thousand stories.

Richard Feynman at the Nobel Awards dinner after receiving his prize in Physics.  Who is the woman to Feynman's right?

Richard Feynman at the Nobel Awards dinner after receiving his prize in Physics. Who is the woman to Feynman’s right? Found on Pinterest

Richard P. Feynman won his Nobel in Physics, in 1965, shared with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger.

The Nobel Foundation said:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 was awarded jointly to Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, Julian Schwinger and Richard P. Feynman “for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles”.

In its description of his award, the Foundation pointed to the now-famous Feynman Diagrams.

Introduced the Feynman Diagrams

Following the successes of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, a first relativistic theory was formulated for the interaction of charged particles with electromagnetic fields. However, in the work of reformulating the theory, Richard Feynman made contributions to a new quantum electrodynamics, in particular in 1948, he introduced so called Feynman diagrams, a graphical representation of interactions between different particles. These diagrams facilitate calculations of interaction probabilities.

Who is the woman next to Feynman?


  • Yesterday, May 11, was Feynman Day; see why we need to mark our calendars for next year!

Typewriter of the moment: Ava and Linus Pauling, 1957

December 8, 2012

Can you identify the typewriter?  Update: In comments, Ed Ackerman said it looks like an Olympia.  Agree?

Linus and Ava Pauling, 1957

Caption from the Oregon State University Library: Linus and Ava Helen Pauling working on “An Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World”. 1957. Original held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, Oregon State University Libraries.

Linus C. Pauling won distinction for his science work with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1954.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1954 was awarded to Linus Pauling “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.”

In 1957, Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling turned to other issues.  Having been beaten in the race to confirm the form of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, Pauling turned to peace activism.  He opposed atomic weapons and wars.

In this photo, posed, Pauling and his wife who partnered with him in his campaigns for peace, worked on a statement to be issued later, to be known as “An Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World.”

Note the tools of editing of the day:  Cellophane tape, glue, scissors, pencils and pens.  The typewriter’s output could be cut into strips and rearranged on a separate sheet of paper, to be retyped later in order.  This was manual, analog word processing.

An online exhibit of Pauling’s work and photos at the Oregon State Library explained the document being worked on, and its use:

While the debate raged, Pauling continued to keep a high public profile, speaking widely and appearing often in newspapers and magazines through 1956 and into 1957, garnering attention by positing shocking estimates of fallout-related damage to human health. By the spring of 1957 it appeared that his and Russell’s efforts were yielding fruit. Alarmed by the dangers of fallout, Japanese, British, German, and Indian politicians began urging a halt to H-bomb tests, as did the Pope and the World Council of Churches.

In May, after delivering a fiery anti-Bomb speech at Washington University in St. Louis, Pauling conferred with two other scientists, Barry Commoner and Edward Condon, about next steps. They decided to mount a scientists’ petition to stop nuclear testing as a way to draw attention to the concerns of a growing number of anti-Bomb scientists. Their “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” mimeographed and hand-mailed, garnered more than two dozen signatures within a week. Pauling took the project back to Pasadena, where he and Ava Helen, along with some volunteers, mailed hundreds of additional copies to researchers in more American universities and national laboratories. Within a few weeks they had gathered some two thousand signatures, including more than fifty members of the National Academy of Sciences and a few Nobel laureates.

On June 3, Pauling released his signatures to the world, sending copies to the United Nations and President Eisenhower. The petition made national headlines — and spurred an immediate attempt to isolate its primary author. Even the president took a shot at Pauling. “I noticed that in many instances scientists that seem to be out of their own field of competence are getting into this argument about bomb testing,” said Eisenhower, “and it looks almost like an organized affair.” This thinly veiled allusion to Communist backing for Pauling’s effort was echoed by a number of other critics of the ban-the-Bomb movement. The head of HUAC blasted Pauling on the floor of Congress for spreading Soviet propaganda. A few days later Pauling was subpoenaed to appear before a Senate investigatory committee (although those hearings were delayed, then canceled). Through it all, he continued to broaden the distribution of his petition through the end of 1957, expanding his mailing list to scientists around the world, including many in Communist countries. By the beginning of 1958, he and Ava Helen counted more than 9,000 signatures. When the expanded petition response was submitted to the United Nations, it once again made headlines worldwide.

Where is a text of the document?  I found one image of the document in holdings of the National Institutes for Health.  It’s indexed under “petitions” in the papers and documents of Linus Pauling in the Profiles of Science section.

For his work against war, Pauling won the Nobel Prize for Peace for 1962 (awarded in 1963).  Pauling is the only person to have won two Nobel awards alone, undivided with anyone else.

Does that typewriter survive today?  Is it in the collection of Oregon State University?


Nobels, a lagging indicator

October 12, 2007

P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula notes buzz about the science Nobels all going to Europeans (even the two U.S. residents are European).  Nobels are a lagging indicator of things, at best, P. Z. says.  The real damage done to U.S. research shows up other places.

Thanks for the reassurances, P. Z.

(He’s right, you know.  He’s using Nobels as an indicator of the robustness of U.S. science; I use them as an indicator of the robustness of U.S. education.  Much of the same stuff applies.  More on science, later.)

Chemistry Nobel: Reactions on solid surfaces

October 10, 2007

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded this morning, went to Gerhard Ertl of the Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (Max Planck Institute, in English), Berlin, Germany, “for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces.”

One more win for Europeans this year — another guy not the product of U.S. public schools. So much for my predictions, so far.

These awards for 2007 seem to be very practically oriented. The press release puts the Chemistry award in focus quickly:

Modern surface chemistry – fuel cells, artificial fertilizers and clean exhaust

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2007 is awarded for groundbreaking studies in surface chemistry. This science is important for the chemical industry and can help us to understand such varied processes as why iron rusts, how fuel cells function and how the catalysts in our cars work. Chemical reactions on catalytic surfaces play a vital role in many industrial operations, such as the production of artificial fertilizers. Surface chemistry can even explain the destruction of the ozone layer, as vital steps in the reaction actually take place on the surfaces of small crystals of ice in the stratosphere. The semiconductor industry is yet another area that depends on knowledge of surface chemistry.

Even the technical, scientific explanation seems easy to follow:

The Nobel Prize in chemistry for 2007 is awarded to Gerhard Ertl for his thorough studies of fundamental molecular processes at the gas-solid interface. When a small molecule hits a solid surface from a gas phase there are a number of possible outcomes. The molecule may simply either bounce back or be adsorbed. It is the latter case that carries the most interesting possibilities. The interaction with the atoms of the surface can be so strong that the molecule dissociates into constituent groups or atoms. The molecule can also react directly with surface groups and change the chemical properties of the surface. A third possibility is that the adsorbed molecule encounters another previously adsorbed one and there is a binary chemical reaction on the surface.

There are very important practical situations where these scenarios are the key chemical events. Heterogeneous catalysis has been a central process in the chemical industry for a century. The agriculture of the world has been supplied with fertilizers rich in nitrogen since 1913 due to the Haber-Bosch process, where the nitrogen of the air is converted to ammonia using an iron-based catalyst. Today every car produced has a catalyst system that converts carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide in the exhaust gases. Also the content of nitrous gases is reduced through the action of the catalyst. Thin semiconductor layers are produced by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) in large quantities in the microelectronics industry. Currently large resources are devoted to the development of efficient fuel cells that would enable the use of hydrogen as a standard vehicle fuel. Corrosion, which is caused by chemical reactions at surfaces, is a major problem both in everyday life and in more sophisticated industrial contexts such as in nuclear power plants and airplanes. Damage by corrosion may be reduced by adjusting the composition of the surface so that it is protected by an oxide layer formed in air. It is clear that chemical processes at surfaces play a central role in wide span of economically highly significant applications of chemical knowledge to the solution of practical problems.

Has globalization already hit so hard, and has U.S. education fallen so far, that the U.S. dominance of Nobels is already at an end? One year does not make a trend. We can hope.


2007 Nobel Prizes in Physics – Giant magnetoresistance

October 9, 2007

The Nobel Committees are working overtime to frustrate my predictions this year.

Two Europeans won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Albert Fert, Unité Mixte de Physique CNRS/THALES, Université Paris-Sud, Orsay, France, and Peter Grünberg, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, won for the discovery of “giant magnetoresistance.”

It’s called one of the first real applications of nanotechnology. Here’s an explanation from IBM’s website, of how the discovery affects new hard drive technologies. This is the basic technology for the working of your hard drive.

Go see the press release from the Nobel Foundation. Video of the announcement ceremony should be available here, later today.

Score so far this year: Five awards, one person schooled in the U.S, by Quaker schools, not public schools. My predictions that the awards go to U.S. citizens schooled in the public schools are not doing well, so far this year. Is the trend over already?

Nobel prizes in the classroom

October 8, 2007

One of my elementary teachers used to make a big deal of the Nobel Prizes every year. We’d get the newspaper clips on the prizes, calculate how much they were worth, and discuss what the people did to win them.

Nobel Prize medallion, from Deccan Herald

Several years ago I started offering grade boosts to economics students who could predict the winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. One year I actually had to pay up, after another teacher discovered a Nobel handicapping site, and one student got very, very lucky. What other uses can you find?

I especially remember the prize to Penzias and Wilson in Physics in 1978, because it meant we didn’t have to study Steady State any longer (and I’d always found that description confusing). Steady State was still in some books, more than a decade after their discovery of Big Bang.

Here’s the schedule for Nobel announcements, over the next week or so:

Announcements of the 2007 Nobel Prizes and The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel will be held on the following dates:
Physiology or Medicine – Monday, October 8, 11:30 a.m. CET (at the earliest)
Physics – Tuesday, October 9, 11:45 a.m. CET (at the earliest)
Chemistry – Wednesday, October 10, 11:45 a.m. CET (at the earliest)
Literature – Thursday, October 11, 1:00 p.m. CET (at the earliest)
Peace – Friday, October 12, 11:00 a.m. CET
Economics – Monday, October 15, 1:00 p.m. CET (at the earliest)

While working in education policy years back I noticed that Nobel winners come disproportionately from the U.S., and disproportionately from the public schools. Watching such trends tends to be a practice of journals outside the U.S., however, such as the Times of India:

Americans tend to dominate the science prizes and last year they made a clean sweep, taking the medicine, physics, chemistry and economics awards. Read the rest of this entry »

Nobels: Medicine prize for gene knockout tools

October 8, 2007

My general predictions about Nobel Prizes are way off after the first announcement today.

The London Telegraph announced it:

The Nobel prize for medicine is shared today by Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for their work on stem cells and genetic manipulation that has had a profound impact, from basic medical research to the development of new treatments.

Although stem cells are one of the hottest fields in science today for their potential for growing replacement cells and tissue for a wide range of diseases, the prestigious 10 million Swedish crown (£750,000) prize recognised the international team’s work for genetically manipulating stem cells to find out what genes do in the body and to provide animal versions of human disease to help hone understanding and test new treatments.

Capecchi was born in Italy and is a US citizen. Both Evans and Smithies are British-born. Sir Martin is known for his pioneering work on stem cells in mice, while Capecci and Smithies showed how genes could be modified.

The Nobel Committee press release gives their formal identification and affiliations:

Mario R. Capecchi, born 1937 in Italy, US citizen, PhD in Biophysics 1967, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

Sir Martin J. Evans, born 1941 in Great Britain, British citizen, PhD in Anatomy and Embryology 1969, University College, London, UK. Director of the School of Biosciences and Professor of Mammalian Genetics, Cardiff University, UK.

Oliver Smithies, born 1925 in Great Britain, US citizen, PhD in Biochemistry 1951, Oxford University, UK. Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

My usual (and still standing) prediction is that most Nobel winners will be Americans, and educated in America’s public schools. Of the three announced today, one is Italian born (but a U.S. citizen now), and the other two are British.

Update: Turns out that Dr. Capecchi moved to the U.S. from Italy at the age of 9. Does anyone know where he went to elementary, junior high and high school?

Capecchi’s success belies his very difficult upbringing in war-torn Italy during World War II. At the age of four, he was separated from his mother, who was taken by the Gestapo to the Dachau concentration camp. For the next four-and-a half years, he lived on the streets, fending for himself by begging and stealing. The two reunited when Capecchi was nine, and they soon moved to the United States, where he began elementary school without knowing how to read or write or how to speak English.

More prizes to come.


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