Physicist is second Briton in two days to win Nobel prize

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The Independent Online

A British-born scientist has jointly won this year's Nobel prize in physics for research into the arcane area of superfluids - when matter behaves in its lowest and most ordered state.

Anthony Leggett, 65, who has dual British-US citizenship, shares the £800,000 prize with two Russian physicists who have worked in the equally arcane world of superconductivity - when electrical conductors lose resistance.

Alexei Abrikosov, 75, who carried out his research in Moscow but is now at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, and Vitaly Ginzburg, 87, of the P N Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, both helped to develop theories of superconductivity.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said: "This year's Nobel prize in physics is awarded to three physicists who have made decisive contributions concerning two phenomena in quantum physics: superconductivity and superfluidity."

Professor Leggett was told of the prize early yesterday at his home near the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where he holds an academic appointment. "I guess it had occurred to me that it was a possibility I might get the Nobel prize, but I didn't think it was particularly probable," Professor Leggett said. "I was very surprised. I'm going to continue working but I haven't really been able to think about the money," he said.

After obtaining a doctoral degree from Oxford University, Professor Leggett first succeeded in explaining the properties of a type of superfluid composed of helium in the 1970s at Sussex University.

Superfluidity occurs when liquid helium is chilled to near absolute zero, the coldest anything can get. The liquid begins to flow freely with little apparent friction and can even climb up the sides of a beaker.

Professor Leggett was the first to formulate a coherent theory to explain superfluidity which has proved useful in other fields of physics, such as particle physics and cosmology, the academy said.

Professor Leggett, who is the second Briton in two days to have won a Nobel prize, worked at Sussex University for 16 years before he emigrated to the US in 1983. The Royal Society said the prize was the first in physics for the UK in 26 years. "Professor Leggett developed the decisive theory explaining how the atoms interact and are ordered in the superfluid state of helium," a spokesman said.

Professor Abrikosov said the news did not come as a surprise because he had been nominated several times. This year he had been tipped off about his nomination by the Nobel committee. "And since this had never happened before, I saw this as a good sign," he said.

"Now I feel relief. I had lost hope of winning ... But I thought my life is good even without [the Nobel prize]. I have interesting work. I am happy. I love my family."

Professor Ginzburg said the prize was a huge amount of money for anyone in Russia who was not a crook or a tycoon. "I will get it in November and I will find a way to spend it. I have great-grandchildren and at least I can give it to them."


British-based scientists who have won the Nobel prize in physics since 1945:

1947: Sir Edward Appleton, investigation of upper atmosphere

1948: Patrick Blackett, development of cloud chamber and discoveries in field of nuclear physics and cosmic radiation

1950: Cecil Powell, photographic method of studying nuclear processes

1951: Sir John Cockcroft, transmutation of atomic nuclei

1971: Dennis Gabor, discovery of holographic method

1973: Brian Josephson, properties of supercurrents

1974: Sir Martin Ryle, Antony Hewish, radio astrophysics and discovery of pulsars

1977: Sir Nevill Mott, electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems