- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Two American citizens and a Russian won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for helping explain some of the strange things that can happen when matter is chilled to extremely low temperatures.

Some of that odd behavior is already employed in MRI body scanners and could someday be harnessed to create high-speed levitating trains.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Alexei A. Abrikosov, 75, and Vitaly L. Ginzburg, 87, for their theories about superconductivity, the ability of some materials to conduct electricity without resistance.

And Anthony J. Leggett, 65, was honored for explaining one kind of superfluidity, a peculiar behavior shown by extremely cold liquid helium.

Mr. Abrikosov is a Russian and American citizen based at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois; Mr. Ginzburg is a Russian based at the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow; and Mr. Leggett is a British and American citizen based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

They will split $1.3 million in prize money. The phenomena they studied are linked, in that superconductivity arises from how pairs of electrons behave, while superfluidity comes about from pairings of atoms.

Mr. Abrikosov and Mr. Ginzburg have had “a big impact on the way people think about superconductivity,” said researcher Robert Cava of Princeton University.

Superconducting magnets are used now to generate the powerful magnetic fields required by magnetic-resonance imaging machines, the widely used technology for examining the inside of the body without surgery.

Scientists hope to harness superconductivity for a variety of uses, like high-speed trains that float above the tracks, power lines that carry current more efficiently, and more efficient electric motors.

The two began developing their theories in the 1950s. Mr. Leggett applied ideas about superconductivity to explain how atoms behave in one kind of “superfluid” in the 1970s. His theory has also proven useful for studies of tiny particles and of the universe, the Swedish academy said.

Superfluidity occurs when liquid helium is chilled to near absolute zero, the coldest anything can get. The liquid begins to flow without friction. It can travel easily through extremely tiny spaces and even climb the sides of a beaker.

The Swedish academy said researchers can use superfluid helium to study other physical phenomena, like how order can turn to chaos. Such research might illuminate the ways in which turbulence arises, “one of the last unsolved problems of classical physics,” the academy said.

“I feel now relief,” said Mr. Abrikosov, who had been nominated for the Nobel before. “I had lost hope of winning. But I thought my life is good even without [the Nobel]. I have interesting work. I am happy. I love my family.”

Mr. Ginzburg said he gave up hope of winning after being regularly nominated for about 30 years: “I had long ago forgotten to think about this.”

This year’s round of Nobel awards started last week with the awarding of the prize in literature to South African author J.M. Coetzee. On Monday, American researcher Paul C. Lauterbur and Briton Sir Peter Mansfield won the medicine prize for discoveries about MRI.

The winners of the chemistry and economics prizes will be named today, while the winner of the peace prize will be announced Friday.

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