“Photons have mass? I didn’t even know they were Catholic”*…
On Tuesday, the Nobel Committee announced the winners of the the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2014.
Isamu Akasaki, 85, left, Hiroshi Amano, 54, and Shuji Nakamura, 60, won “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”– an award that speaks to current concerns over energy efficiency, climate change, and improving living conditions in developing economies:
In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources…
As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources. Materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights.
The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids: due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power…
[Read more in the Nobel press release]
The Committee’s choice was clearly a worthy one. Still, as a reminder that the field is a very competitive one, it’s worth (re-)visiting the expert predictions that immediately preceded the award. Thompson-Reuters’ annual Science Watch predictions named three potential winners (or groups– the award can go to up to three); while they’ve been right four of the last ten years, and all of their candidates did amazing– and amazingly-important– work, they missed this year. Ditto, the expert panel whose prognostications were reported last Friday by Scientific American.
But maybe most fundamentally, it’s worth noting (quizzically, as SciAm does) that since the Prize was first awarded in 1901, only two women have won: Marie Curie (who was a double Laureate, also winning in Chemistry) and more recently, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who won in 1963.
* Woody Allen
As we size up the sociology of science, we might recall that this was a bad day for inclusiveness in Massachusetts in 1635: the General Court of the then-Colony banished Roger Williams for speaking out for the separation of church and state and against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land. Williams moved out to edge of the Narragansett Bay, where with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, he established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”
Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s. And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.