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One of the most important principles of modern theoretical physics has apparently been shattered by two young physicists from Columbia and the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.
The law, known as the Law of Conservation of Parity, said, in effect, that the physical laws governing our world and a world which was the mirror-image of ours would be the same. However, in experiments involving the very slow "beta-decay" processes, scientists found that theory based on the Law could not explain certain observed phenomena.
While other physicists puzzled over this evidence, Tsung Dao Lee of Columbia University and Chen Ning Yang of the Institute for Advanced Study proposed that the long sacred principle may be invalid. Recently completed experiments at Columbia have justified their assertion.
At Harvard, Edward W. Purcell, professor of Physics and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1952 for his work in nuclear magnetism, termed this new theory "an extremely important discovery which may be the turning point in the theory of elementary particles."
Jabez C. Street, professor of Physics and head of the Department, pointed out that although the new development had "very important connotations in physical theory," one "had to work hard" to create a situation in which the non-parity effect actually was observable.
Much Theory Still Valid
Indirectly, Street played a part in the upheaval of the old theory, for the mu-meson, which he discovered several years ago, was instrumental in detecting the variation from the parity principle.
Street felt that most of the large scale atomic theory will still be valid, in much the same way that the physics of Newton was still valid in its limited range, despite Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
However, Purcell emphasized that there was a definite difference between these two physical cases. In Newton's mechanics, the possibility of a variation from Newton's principles might have been conceivable if one could consider a great departure from normal velocities and conditions of motion.
With the theory of Conservation of Parity, however, one would think that "no matter how far you go, you would never find asymmetry in nature, but now it has been shown otherwise."
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