5 Contributions from Nobel Prize Winning Physicists that Impact Everyday Life

By Sheeva Azma and Nidhi Parekh

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The Nobel Prize in Physics was one of the original prizes discussed by Alfred Nobel in his will establishing the prestigious accolades.

It can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around the many landmark scientific achievements celebrated by the Nobel Prize in Physics.  The topic can be exceptionally complicated, and a lot of the Nobel Prize winners in Physics received Nobel awards for complex theoretical achievements that advance science, but don’t exactly seem that relevant to everyday life. 

Albert Einstein, for example, is probably the most famous recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics.  He received the Physics Nobel in 1921 for his discovery of what is called the photoelectric effect — a research experiment that supports the particle theory of light. It’s not immediately obvious how this discovery relates to everyday life.

Yet, many of the Nobel Prize winners in Physics also helped advance technology that makes our lives easier.  Medical imaging, sophisticated computer microprocessors, and inventions like the radio and LED lightbulbs are all examples of Nobel Prize winning technologies.

Many innovations worthy of the Nobel Prize in Physics have directly impacted everyday life.

Read on to learn more about five famous Nobel-worthy innovations that have directly impacted everyday life.

Guglielmo Marconi Invented the Radio

In 1901, Marconi, an Italian engineer and inventor, broadcast the first transatlantic radio signal. His company, Marconi radios, helped ocean travelers have entertainment for the long journey.  Marconi radios saved all of the passengers who survived the sinking Titanic. He and Ferdinand Braun shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 for his work developing and inventing the radio.

Isidor Rabi Established the Foundations of MRI

In 1944, Isidor Rabi received the Physics Nobel Prize for his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance or NMR.  NMR is the foundation of MRI, a type of noninvasive medical imaging that is used to look at the brain, heart, and other organs and tissues of the body.  Without MRI, for example, we would not know about the effects of COVID-19 on the brain (or the neurological effects of other diseases).

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen Invented X-Rays

The first recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 was William Röntgen, who discovered X-rays.  He was the first to produce and detect electromagnetic radiation in the X-ray spectrum, which he named X-rays or Röntgen rays.

Max Planck Discovered Quantum Mechanics Principles Used in Electronics

A German physicist named Max Planck won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.  Planck is known for the discovery of quantum mechanics, and is the namesake for a quantity called Planck’s constant.  Planck’s constant explains the quantized nature of energy in what is called “quanta” — it can be imagined as individual packets or bundles of energy.  Planck’s constant is widely used in electronic and fiber optic systems such as computer, communications, information, control, sensing, telemetry, endoscopic, illumination, and imaging systems.

The 2014 Physics Nobel Winners Invented LED Light Bulb Technology

In 2014, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura won the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing high-efficiency blue light-emitting diodes or LEDs.  Blue LEDs which are ubiquitous in electronic devices like laptops and smartphones.  Other types of LED light had already been developed, but the development of blue LED light made it possible to generate white light by shining blue LEDs onto photoluminescent materials.

Conclusion

Everyone can live a better life via physics.

Sure, there have been a lot of complex theoretical physics Nobel Prizes over the years — but you don’t have to be a quantum physicist to benefit from the accomplishments of Nobel Prize winning physicists.  Everyone can live a better life via physics.

Sources:

Diep, F. Why a Blue LED Is Worth A Nobel Prize. Popular Science. Fri. 2 Oct 2020. <https://www.popsci.com/article/technology/why-blue-led-worth-nobel-prize/>

Guglielmo Marconi.  History.com.  Fri. 2 Oct 2020. <https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/guglielmo-marconi

Isidor Isaac Rabi – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 1 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1944/rabi/facts/

Material for Nobel Prizes. Freiberger. Fri. 2 Oct 2020. <https://freiberger.com/en/products/applications/material-for-nobel-prizes/

The Nobel Prize in Physics. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Sat. 3 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/>

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1909. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 1 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1909/summary/

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 1 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2014/summary/>    

Weik, M.H. Planck’s constant.  Computer Science and Communications DIctionary.  Fri. 2 Oct 2020. <https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F1-4020-0613-6_14147

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 1 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1901/rontgen/facts/>

Yan, Wudan. Who Was Max Planck? JSTOR. 22 Apr 2016. <https://daily.jstor.org/who-was-max-planck/

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