Israeli Physicist Makes List of Nobel Prize Front-runners

Ofri Ilany
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Ofri Ilany

Israeli physicist Prof. Yakir Aharonov of Tel Aviv University is on a list of 25 Nobel Prize front-runners for this year.

The list is compiled by David Pendlebury, a Reuters news agency journalist considered the best forecaster of prize winners for the prestigious prize and who bases his predictions largely on the number of times the scientist is quoted in important scientific publications. Pendlebury named three physicists as possible prize-winners.

The physics prize will be announced tomorrow in Stockholm.

Appearing on the Reuters list is considered a large achievement in itself. Reuters has been correct every year since 1989 - with the exception of 1993 and 1996 - in at least one science category.

Aharonov, 77, said, "I have been mentioned several times as a candidate for the Nobel Prize, but this is the first time that I appear in an objective assessment that is based on citations by the most outstanding scientists."

The scientific phenomenon for which Aharonov may win the most prestigious prize in the world is known as The Aharonov-Bohm Effect and was predicted by him and his doctoral supervisor, the late physicist David Bohm, 50 years ago.

It works as a kind of "telepathy" in which a particle "feels" a remote force. The discovery of the effect is one of the outcomes of quantum mechanics.

"This is a remote sensing of particles," Aharonov explained. "The most important thing is the interaction between particles. If we know the interactions, we can predict what is happening to systems. What we discovered was that the particle is located at one point, the force is located at another point, but nevertheless it can feel it."

The Aharonov-Bohm effect was considered controversial for many years but the prediction was verified in recent decades in many experiments. According to Aharonov: "Contrary to ordinary findings that initially get wide publication but later are forgotten, the effect under discussion here has gathered momentum in recent years. There is a complete field of physics that developed in the wake of this - mesoscopic physics."

David Bohm, Aharonov's partner in the discovery, was a Jewish American physicist who died in 1992. He was forced to flee the United States because he was suspected of having Communist leanings during the 1950s Red Scare and was even arrested for his refusal to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1955, he moved to Israel and worked at the Technion in Haifa for two years.

"I met Bohm when he came to the Technion, after he fled from the United States because of [Senator Joseph] McCarthy," Aharonov said. "We discovered the effect exactly 50 years ago, as part of my doctoral thesis."

Michael Berry of the University of Bristol was also mentioned by the Reuters list in tandem with Aharonov for the related Berry Phase. The other physicists in the Reuters prediction are John Pendry, Sheldon Shultz and David Smith; and Juan Ignacio Cirac and Peter Zoller.