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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three Physicists Share Nobel Prize

Makoto Kobayashi, left, and Toshihide Maskawa, both of Japan, and Yoichiro Nambu, of the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute, received the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday

An American and two Japanese physicists on Tuesday won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work exploring the hidden symmetries among elementary particles that are the deepest constituents of nature.their discovery of tiny breaks in the symmetry of nature's fundamental particles that help explain why our universe exists and the rules that govern it.

Physicists had thought that it would be possible to replace all particles with their antiparticles in an experiment, or to run the experiment in reverse, and have the same result. But it turned out there were subtle differences. The idea of a third family of quarks, which could account for the violation of symmetry, arose with the work of Italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo and was cemented by Kobayashi and Maskawa.

Some Italian physicists said yesterday that they were upset about the perceived snub of Cabibbo.

"I'm happy that the Nobel Prize has been awarded in this area of physics," Roberto Petronzio, president of the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics, told La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper. "Nevertheless, I can't deny that I'm bitterly disappointed by this particular award: The only contribution that Kobayashi and Maskawa made was to simply expand upon a core idea whose father was the Italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo."

Kobayashi and Maskawa, meanwhile, reacted to the award without much excitement.

Yoichiro Nambu, of the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago, will receive half of the $1.4 million prize for work he did nearly half a century ago. The other half will be split between Makoto Kobayashi, of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba, Japan, and Toshihide Maskawa, of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics at Kyoto University.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which presents the award, said the three "give us a deeper understanding of what happens far inside the tiniest building blocks of matter."
The three physicists were pioneers in understanding cases where symmetry in nature is broken in subtle but crucial ways.
One of the most vital asymmetries in the cosmos, the balance between matter and antimatter, explains why the universe looks the way it does. Matter and antimatter are similar, but opposites: An electron carries a negative charge, while its antiparticle, the positron, is an electron with a positive charge. When the two collide, they annihilate each other.
In a symmetric universe with an exactly equal amounts of matter and antimatter, life -- if any could exist -- would be nasty, brutish and short. But physicists believe that at the time of the big bang, 13.7 billion years ago, there was one extra particle of matter for every 10 billion antimatter particles. The leftover matter composes the stable, apparently matter-dominated universe we live in. Why this happened is a mystery.
Nambu, 87, said in an interview yesterday that he came to the United States from Japan in 1952, arriving at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, where he crossed paths with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific head of the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb, and Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity is still a fundamental foundation of physics.

Nambu's mathematical work on "spontaneous symmetry breaking" began in 1960. It now undergirds the Standard Model, which describes three of the fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force.
Physicists hope to explain the roots of these forces when they restart the new Large Hadron Collider, a massive atom smasher in France and Switzerland, next year.
"I was surprised to hear the news," Nambu said. "I'd been told that I was a candidate for many years now, but I didn't expect this to happen at this particular time."
Steven Weinberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, said: "The award to Nambu, I think, is long overdue. He was the first one to realize the importance of this phenomenon."
Kobayashi, 64, and Maskawa, 68, predicted in 1972 that there were three families of quarks, instead of the two then known. (Quarks and leptons are considered the two basic components of all matter, and make up atomic particles.) Their calculations were confirmed by experiments in high-energy physics, leading to the discovery of the charm, bottom and top quarks, three of the six known today

A.M.D. will focus on design and let other worry about the actual production.

Senators Charles E. Schumer, left, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, with Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, second from left, and Hector de J. Ruiz, chairman of Foundry, on Tuesday in Albany. Foundry is a spinoff of Advanced Micro Devices.
ADM announcing Tuesday that it will spin off its manufacturing operations in a multi-billion dollar joint venture with a newly formed high-tech investment company created by the government of Abu Dhabi. ADM would spin off its computer-chip factories into a separate company.

Like most other companies in the semiconductor industry, A.M.D. will focus on design and let other people worry about the actual production.

The Advanced Technology Investment Company, an organization created by the Abu Dhabi government, has agreed to invest up to $8 billion in A.M.D.’s factory spinoff and will receive a 55.6 percent stake in the entity, which has been temporarily named the Foundry Company. Foundry will initially make chips just for A.M.D. but will eventually compete for other customers.

Why would an investment company with virtually no technology experience, located halfway around the world from Silicon Valley, bet billions of dollars that it can conquer one of the world’s toughest businesses?
One reason is that Abu Dhabi wants to be treated as a serious technology player, said Waleed al-Mokarrab, chairman of Advanced Technology. “This is the first of what I hope will be over time a deep group of technology-intensive businesses that we invest in.”

Under terms of the deal, Advanced Technology will fund the manufacturing company with an initial $2.1 billion and then contribute up to $6 billion more — most of which will go toward improving A.M.D.’s existing chip plants in Dresden, Germany, and building a new $3.2 billion facility near Albany, N.Y.
A.M.D., based in Sunnyvale, Calif., will retain ownership of 44.4 percent of the new entity. A.M.D. will also sell a $314 million stake in the presplit company to a separate Abu Dhabi investment firm, Mubadala Development.
This outlay of capital will help A.M.D. escape the burden of funding pricey chip plants as it competes with its much larger rival, Intel, to sell the key chips that run personal computers and corporate servers. Over the past couple of years, A.M.D. has crumbled under the pressure of keeping up with Intel, posting seven consecutive quarterly losses.
A.M.D. shareholders were so pleased by the spinoff Tuesday that they drove shares up 8.5 percent to $4.59 even as other tech stocks fell in the market sell-off.
A company building a state-of-the-art plant today can expect to pay $3.5 billion to $4 billion for the facility, said Thomas Sonderman, A.M.D.’s vice president of manufacturing technology.
Worst of all, companies usually need to invest in at least two plants of this scale to deal with seasonal fluctuations and changes in manufacturing technology, and to keep both plants at close to 100 percent capacity in order to turn a profit.
“Intel, Samsung and a couple of other memory makers are really the only companies who can keep two or more factories full,” said Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, a firm specializing in semiconductors.
The Advanced Technology cash infusion will allow the Foundry to upgrade one of the Dresden plants so that it can be used to make cutting-edge processors for a wide variety of companies within a year. A top priority will be to adapt the plant to bid for A.M.D.’s graphics chips business. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, one of the leading contract chip factories, makes those products today.
Down the road, Foundry hopes to leverage a technology alliance with I.B.M. to woo even more customers. I.B.M. has formed semiconductor partnerships with Toshiba, Samsung, Sony and others — all of whom could turn to Foundry for extra capacity.
Traditionally, foundries, which contract to make processors for other companies, have been one or two generations behind the technology in factories owned by companies like Intel that design and produce their own products.
One of Foundry’s big advantages will come from inheriting A.M.D.’s manufacturing technology, which is closer to that of Intel than the major foundries.
According to analysts, this recipe could result in a profitable business for Foundry and a technology coup for the Middle East.
“There has been a large weeding-out process in this industry, so this is bringing a core, proven set of technology to the region,” said Kevin Cassidy, an analyst at Thomas Weisel Partners.
The deal still comes with its challenges both procedural and social. New York State, for example, is reviewing the process for transferring $1.2 billion in incentives for the new chip plant to Foundry from A.M.D.
In addition, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States must approve the transaction for it to be complete.

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