Monday, October 19, 2009

Physics Nobel 2009

India’s Nobel no-list longer


New Delhi, Oct. 16: An India-born American has joined a century-old league of legendary physicists from India overlooked by Nobel prize selection panels while others were awarded for similar or derived research, some physicists said.

Narinder Singh Kapany, who pioneered the science of transmitting light through glass fibres, is in a league established in 1909 when Guglielmo Marconi received the Nobel prize for work on wireless telegraphy that relied on an invention by India’s Jagadish Chandra Bose.

The Royal Swedish Academy last week announced the 2009 Nobel physics prize for Shanghai-born Charles Kao for his work on transmission of light in fibres for optical communication and two others for their invention of an imaging semiconductor.

The groundbreaking work by Kao in 1966 led to the development of long-distance optical communications. But Kapany had constructed optical fibres and demonstrated the transmission of light across optical fibres of short lengths 12 years earlier.

The Academy itself has acknowledged Kapany’s contribution to fibre optics, citing his paper published in the journal Nature in 1954.

Science historians and sections of physicists believe the Nobel Committee appears to have distinguished between Kapany’s work involving short-distance transmission and Kao’s subsequent feat, which opened doors for long-distance transmission.

“The work on long-distance transmission was a logical extension of the earlier work,” said Kapany, who was born in Moga (Punjab).

“The (Nobel) Committee has its own methodology — but I’m fine with it. I fully accept this situation. Let’s leave it at that,” Kapany told The Telegraph, chuckling over the phone from Palo Alto (California).

A senior scholar of the history of physics at the University of Oldenburg, Germany, who has studied trends in Nobel prizes for many years, said he was not surprised at Kapany’s omission.
“There are cases where the first scientists who established something novel did not get the prize,” Falk Riess said.

“There are at least three other instances over the past century where contributions of Indian physicists appear to have been ignored by Nobel committees,” said Shivanand Kanavi, a physicist-turned-author who had documented Kapany’s contributions to fibre optics in a book Sand to Silicon, published five years ago.