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Chemistry, physics Nobel winners

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Physics prize goes for helium isotope research

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (CNN) -- Two U.S. scientists and a Briton, discoverers of a new form of the element carbon, are the winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced October 9. That same day, it was announced the Nobel Prize for physics would be awarded to three U.S. scientists for their work in low-temperature physics.

Smalley

University of Sussex professor Harold W. Kroto and Rice University professors Robert F. Curl Jr. and Richard E. Smalley take the chemistry honor for their 1985 discovery of "fullerenes."

"From a theoretical viewpoint, the discovery of the fullerenes has influenced our conception of such widely separated scientific problems as the galactic carbon cycle and classical aromaticity, a keystone of theoretical chemistry," the academy's citation said.

Curl

Fullerenes are formed when vaporized carbon condenses in an atmosphere of inert gas, and are named for architect R. Buckminster Fuller. Fullerene clusters resemble Fuller's famed geodesic domes.

Britain's Kroto said that it was "the greatest day of his life" to be honored with the Nobel Prize.

Kroto

"A lot of great scientists don't even dream about this because the probability of winning it is beyond belief. I'm totally overwhelmed," said Kroto, who made the initial discovery and then contacted Curl and Smalley, who confirmed it.


Richardson

Physics prize goes for helium isotope research

Physics prize winners David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff and Robert C. Richardson were cited "for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3," the academy said.


Osheroff

The research, conducted in the early 1970s at Cornell University, showed that the helium-3 isotope became superfluid -- cold enough that it loses its usual molecular pattern -- only at a temperature of about two-thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. At such low temperatures, the isotope can flow without losing energy to friction, and can conduct heat efficiently.

Recently, the research has been applied to a theory about "cosmic strings" -- large objects that may have been instrumental in the creation of the universe.

Lee

"Science is a web, and what happens in one part of the web influences what happens in another part of the web," said Lee Wednesday morning. "The discovery itself forms part of the web of science, the basic research part."

The research was conducted while Osheroff, now in the physics department at Stanford University, was a graduate student working with professors Lee and Richardson. The two professors are still in Cornell's physics department.

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