The news was announced by the Nobel Committee in Sweden earlier today. Half of the prize will go to James Peebles, a Canadian-American physicist whose theoretical breakthrough in the 1960s transformed cosmology ‘from speculation to science’.
The universe came into existence 14 billion years ago with a ‘bang’: the Big Bang. The radiation from this explosion of space can still be detected today, and Peebles found a way to use radiation measurements to create a model of the universe in its early stages. Based on this model, he also concluded that we are only able to observe 5% of the universe. The remaining 95% is made up what is now known as dark matter and dark energy.
The other half of the Nobel Prize will go to Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, for their discovery of the very first exoplanet in 1995. Exoplanets are planets that do not revolve around the sun, but around other stars. Since the Swiss duo’s discovery, more than 4,000 other exoplanets have been found.
One condition for being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics is that the recipient must be alive, as the prize cannot be awarded posthumously. Last year’s winner, Arthur Ashkin, became the oldest laureate in history at the age of 96.
So far, the prize has been awarded to nine Dutch scientists. The first two Dutch winners were Hendrik Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman in 1902, for their research into the Zeeman effect. Their findings proved that electrons could be in two states simultaneously, as predicted by quantum mechanics.
The most recent Dutch winner was Andre Geim, a Russian-born Dutch-British physicist. He was awarded the prize in 2010 for his work on the development of graphene, an ultra-strong single layer of carbon atoms. Geim received an honorary doctorate from TU Delft in 2009.
History of Dutch Nobel Prize in Physics winners :
- Andre Geim (2010)
- Gerard ’t Hooft en Martinus Veltman (1999)
- Simon van der Meer (1984)
- Frits Zernike (1953)
- Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1913)
- Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1910)
- Hendrik Antoon Lorentz en Pieter Zeeman (1902)
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