Saturday, May 07, 2011

Scotland's Bid To Honor Its Only Nobel Prize Winner In Physics

As customary of my effort in highlighting the legacy of physicists who we all should know but get very little mention, especially in the popular media, here is a news report of Scotland's effort to honor its only Physics Nobel Prize winner - Charles Thomson Rees Wilson - who was given the Nobel prize for the invention of the cloud chamber.

Now a group of prominent scientists and politicians who believe his achievements rank alongside those of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie are to launch a campaign to have issued a commemorative banknote to honour long-forgotten inventor CTR Wilson. Wilson was awarded the world's most prestigious science prize in 1927 for his invention of the cloud chamber, inspired by the optical effects he saw in the sky in the Highlands. His invention was pivotal in the development of particle physics and has been described as "the most original and wonderful instrument in scientific history".

The cloud chamber, of course, was one of the earliest particle detector that was used, and featured prominently in the early high energy physics experiments. I still use a cloud chamber whenever we have visitors, and it is amazing how many have never see such a thing. People continually are amazed when they see all of these tracks zipping around in the chamber. It reinforced the idea that we are surrounded by cosmic/terrestrial "radiation", and something this visual tends to stick in people's head faster and easier than simply telling them, or showing them on posters.


1 comment:

Gandalf said...

Heh too bad the Nobel Prize didn't exist during James C. Maxwell's time - Scotland would have at least one more!

I was also amazed the first time I saw a cloud chamber (or bubble? not sure actually). This was during my first year as physics student.