STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Americans David J. Gross, H.
David Politzer and Frank Wilczek won the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics
on Tuesday for their explanation of the force that binds particles
inside the atomic nucleus.
Their work has helped science get closer to "a theory for
everything," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in awarding
the physics prize.
It was a 1973 breakthrough by the trio - researchers at the
University of California, Santa Barbara, the California Institute of
Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - that
explained how the so-called "strong force" works. The force keeps
quarks, the building blocks of protons and neutrons, tightly bound
to one another even though the positive electromagnetic charge of
protons in the nucleus would break them apart.
"I'm shocked, very surprised and honored," Gross said of winning
Reached by Swedish radio at his home in Massachusetts, Wilczek,
53, said he was surprised and gratified.
"Of course it is something I've been dreaming about for quite a
while now," he said.
He said he would spend the day "sort of floating six feet above
The three physicists came by their discovery through a brilliant
and non-intuitive insight. They showed that unlike forces such as
electromagnetism and gravity, which grow more powerful as two
particles get closer to one another, the strong force actually gets
weaker as two quarks converge. It is as if the particles were
connected by a rubber band that pulls them together more tightly as
Politzer, 55, and Wilczek were still graduate students at the
time of the discovery; Gross, now 63, was a young professor. Their
achievement cemented the theory of quantum chromodynamics, which
describes the interactions of quarks and other subatomic particles
inside the atomic nucleus.
It also filled a critical remaining gap in what physicists refer
to as the Standard Model, the theory that governs physics at the
microscopic scale. It accounts for the behavior of three out of
nature's four fundamental forces - electromagnetism, the strong
force and the weak force, which governs radioactive decay.
The ultimate goal of physics would be to unify the Standard Model
with Einstein's theory of general relativity, which describes how
gravity works and predicts the existence of black holes, wormholes
and other far-out phenomena. The work of Wilczek, Gross and Politzer
brought science one step closer to that "grand dream," the Swedish
Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of
dynamite who endowed the prizes, left only vague guidelines for the
In his will, he said the prize should be given to those who
"shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "shall
have made the most important discovery or invention within the field
The academy, which also chooses the chemistry and economics
winners, invited nominations from previous recipients and experts in
the fields before cutting down its choices.
The winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry will be named today
and the literature prize will be announced Thursday. The economics
prize will be announced Monday.
The winner of the coveted peace prize - the only one not awarded
in Sweden - will be announced Friday in Oslo, Norway.
The prizes, which include a $1.3 million check, a gold medal and
a diploma, are presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's
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