By Malcolm Ritter
The Associated Press
Two Japanese scientists and a Japanese American won the 2008 Nobel Prize in physics on Oct. 7 for theoretical advances that help explain the behavior of the smallest particles of matter.
The American, Yoichiro Nambu, 87, of the University of Chicago, won half the $1.4 million prize for mathematical work he did nearly a half-century ago.
“I had almost given up” on getting the Nobel, Nambu said.
Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa of Japan shared the other half for a 1972 theory that forecast the later discovery of a new family of subatomic particles.
The insights of the three scientists “give us a deeper understanding of what happens far inside the tiniest building blocks of matter,” said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which presents the physics award.
Or, as physicist Phil Schewe, a spokesman for the American Institute of Physics, put it: “Nature works in strange ways, and these three physicists helped to explain that strangeness in an ingenious way.”
Three other U.S.-based scientists also won a Nobel Prize on Oct. 8 for turning a glowing green protein from jellyfish into a revolutionary way to watch the tiniest details of life within cells and living creatures.
Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese citizen who works in the United States, and Americans Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien shared the chemistry prize for discovering and developing green fluorescent protein, or GFP.
Shimomura told reporters that he, too, was surprised.
“My accomplishment was just the discovery of a protein. … But I am happy,” he said.
Speaking to reporters by telephone, Tsien thanked scientists worldwide. When they do “good things with GFP and its progeny,” Tsien said he can “bask in the warmth of that glow a little bit too.”
Associated Press writers Matt Moore and Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Herbert G. McCann in Chicago contributed to this report.