APS News

February 2014 (Volume 23, Number 2)

Letters to the Editor

Remembering the Bomb

Jeremy Bernstein closes his November 2013 Back Page article “Learning to Love the Bomb” with the sentence, “Perhaps there should be one more explosion in the desert of Nevada to remind us.” This reminded me that the late Harold Agnew, former director of Los Alamos, made a similar suggestion. He suggested, I believe, that when the Limited Test Ban banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere and elsewhere went into effect, an H-bomb should be detonated every year over the Pacific and all the world’s heads of governments should be invited to watch it, for the same reason Bernstein gives, “to remind us.”

Michael May
Stanford, California

Controversy Continues Over Picking Nobel Winners

The naming of Nobel Prize winners always raises the specter of those who may have also contributed but who were not included in the award. This year’s physics prize is no exception (APS News, November 2013).

This year’s winners, François Englert and Peter Higgs, developed the theoretical mechanism for the origin of mass of subatomic particles. Others that proposed what is now known as the Higgs field were the late Robert Brout, Carl Hagen, Gerald Guralnik, and Tom Kibble.

The prize is not awarded posthumously and may not be shared among more than three people. These criteria may explain why Brout, longtime collaborator of Englert, was not included and thus why only two were awarded the Prize.

The recent passing of Kenneth Wilson (Physics Today, November 2013, page 65) reminds us of a similar case regarding the 1982 Noble Prize in Physics awarded to Wilson for the development of the renormalization group as applied to critical points and phase transitions. The names of Michael Fisher, Leo Kadanoff, and Benjamin Widom come to mind as possible contributors. Surely, the three-person criterion may have been used in this case.

No doubt, there are many more cases of contention. However, a case that stands out is that of Raymond Vahan Damadian, an American medical practitioner and inventor of the first magnetic resonance scanning machine. Damadian was the first to perform a full body scan of a human being in 1977 to diagnose cancer. Damadian has received a multitude of awards for his discoveries. In 2003, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Paul C. Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging. Surely, there was room here for a third winner.

Moorad Alexanian
Wilmington, North Carolina

Women and the Nobel Prize

I read with great interest the article in APS News, December 2013, about women and Noble Prizes. One person who should have been mentioned is Isabella Karle, a chemist at the Naval Research Laboratory. I have spent a career at NRL, although in a very different field, and had one or two interactions with her. She was a very impressive individual. Her husband, Jerome, also at NRL did win the Nobel Prize for his development of the “direct method” of analyzing X-ray diffraction to determine molecular structure. His work was theoretical, but Isabella was the principal experimentalist that made it all real. There is a web story about her in the online platform, Narratively.

Wallace Manheimer
Allendale, New Jersey

Digital versus Analog

In “Doing Science ‘Online’ (Letters, APS News, November 2013) David Lide credits the telegraph with the first “digital” communication. Unfortunately, the only thing digital about the telegraph is that it is operated by the fingers (digits) as defined by the Oxford Dictionary:

Digital (adjective): 1. (of signals or data) expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization. Often contrasted with analog. Relating to, using, or storing data or information in the form of digital signals: digital TV. A digital recording involving or relating to the use of computer technology: the digital revolution. 2. (of a clock or watch) showing the time by means of displayed digits rather than hands or a pointer. 3. of or relating to a finger or fingers.

The telegraph is a form of analogue communication as defined by Oxford and other dictionaries. Lord Rayleigh may have communicated and collaborated using the telegraph, but he did not live to see the “Digital Age” in which we are now embedded. Even the ciphers, such as Morse Code, are analogue communications. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary:

Analogue (adjective): relating to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position, voltage, etc.: analogue signals the information on a gramophone record is analogue. Often contrasted with digital (sense 1). (of a clock or watch) showing the time by means of hands or a pointer rather than displayed digits.

If the telegraph were true digital communication, I seriously doubt that Rayleigh would have been the first to use it as such.

My doctoral research advisor frequently resorted to the Oxford and other dictionaries for clarification. Spelling and grammar checks often do not spot such word misuse. This is another differentiation that is basic to understanding the physical world today.

Victor S. Alpher
Austin, Texas

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik