Japan's Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, and Yoichiro Nambu of the United States, won the 2008 Nobel Physics Prize Tuesday for ground-breaking theoretical work in fundamental particles.
The three physics specialist were lauded for their work in explaining anomalies in concepts of the nature of matter and the origins of the Universe, created in the "Big Bang" 14 billion years ago.
Nambu, 87, won one half of the prize for work in the 1960s for discovering the mechanism of "spontaneous broken symmetry" in sub-atomic phsics, the Nobel committee said.
The duo received the other half "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry," the jury said.
The field of particle physics studied by the three scientists is the focus of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's biggest particle smasher, which was launched in Geneva on September 11.
Nambu was hailed for developing a concept called "spontaneous symmetry-breaking" in superconductivity and in basic particles.
These theories are a keystone of the so-called Standard Model of physics, which explains in a unified way three of the four fundamental forces of nature -- strong, weak and electromagnetic.
"Spontaneous broken symmetry conceals nature's order under an apparently jumbled surface," the Nobel panel said.
"It has proved to be extremely useful, and Nambu's theories permeate the Standard Model of elementary particle physics.
"The Model unifies the smallest building blocks of all matter and three of nature's four forces in one single theory."
In the 1970s, Kobayashi and Maskawa went on to explain this broken symmetry. Their theory required that the Standard Model be enlarged by three novel families of sub-atomic particles called quarks.
Their hypothesis was borne out nearly three decades later in experiments.
Kobayashi, 64, is a professor emeritus at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation in Tsukuba, while Maskawa, 68, holds the same title at the Yukawa institute for Theoretical Physics at Kyoto University.
Yoichio Nambu is a professor emeritus at the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago.
Maskawa said he was delighted that his forerunner, Nambu, had become a laureate.
"I am happy that Mr. Nambu has won it. I thought there was a bigger chance this year," Maskawa said, as quoted by Jiji Press.
The High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation (KEK) near Tokyo, where Kobayashi works, saluted the winners.
"It's great news for KEK as well. Professor Kobayashi, Professor Maskawa and Professor Nambu have all made great contributions," KEK spokesman Yohei Morita told AFP.
Last year, the prize went to Albert Fert of France and Peter Gruenberg of Germany for pioneering work that led to the miniaturised hard disk, one of the breakthroughs of modern information technology.
On Monday, French and German scientists credited with the discovery of the viruses behind AIDS and cervical cancer won the Medicine Prize, the first of the prestigious awards to be announced this year.
The Chemistry Prize laureates will be on Wednesday, followed by the Literature Prize on Thursday and the Peace Prize on Friday.
The Economics Prize will wrap up the awards on October 13.
The Nobel prizes, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, were first awarded in 1901.
Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, died childless in 1896, dedicating his vast fortune to create "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."
Laureates receive a gold medal, a diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor (1.42 million dollars, 1.02 million euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.
The formal awarding of the prizes will take place in Stockholm on December 10.
Date created : 2008-10-07