Physics prize highlights puzzles
What’s dark energy? In this illustration, the mysterious repulsive force is represented as a smooth purple grid that overwhelms the effects of gravity (represented by a lumpy green grid).
By Alan Boyle
Most of the research recognized by a Nobel Prize has to do with solutions, but this year’s physics prize highlights a problem that’s been bugging scientists for more than a decade. And there may be more such problems to chew on in the years ahead.
“The way science makes progress is through an interplay between theory and observation,” Sean M. Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, told me today. But when it comes down to theory vs. observation, “observations always win,” he said.
As an example, take the research that won today’s Nobel Prize for physics: When the three physicists who won the award started charting the brightness of distant supernovae, they expected to find out how much the expansion of the universe was slowing down, in accord with the accepted theories for cosmic evolution. Instead, they were surprised to find that the expansion rate was speeding up.