|Francois Englert (left) and Peter Higgs at CERN on July 4th, 2012, when the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN|
The Nobel Prize in physics has always been awarded to individuals, but some suggested that a share of the prize might be awarded to scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. That didn’t happen, but maybe it will in the future, since they certainly deserve it. For now they have a consolation prize with the official mention of their crucial confirmation.
One interesting feature of this year’s prize was the slight delay in the announcement yesterday morning. This article from the Associated Press gives some fascinating insight into the secretive Nobel process, while failing to actually explain the delay. The deliberations of the Nobel Committee are supposed to be kept secret for 50 years, which doesn’t say a lot for their openness and transparency. However, some details of the process are made available and I was surprised to learn that the decision on the Nobel isn’t made until the day of the announcement, using a majority vote by the full academy. With all of the media speculation that occurs in the build-up to the announcement, especially this year for the Higgs, I wonder if the academy imposes any sort of media blackout in an attempt to avoid bias. Unconscious bias is especially hard to avoid.
Many articles about the physics prize have already been written and more will be published over the next few days. They can easily be found with Google News. For detailed background on the science that does not mention the unfortunate nickname for the Higgs boson, I recommend this blog post by physicist Matt Strassler. For well-argued critiques of the Nobel Prize's rules and tradition, I recommend these articles by Sean Carroll at his blog and in the New York Times (I have some thoughts on this topic, but I'll save them for another blog post).
Thomson Reuters suggested that the astronomers who did key work on exoplanets had a chance for the 2013 prize, namely Geoff Marcy, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Another strong candidate is William Borucki, the Principal Investigator for the very successful Kepler mission. (Added note: I no longer think Marcy should be considered for a Nobel Prize, given his tarnished record.) When I saw this prediction I wondered if the relative lack of new physics that has come from exoplanet work might be a handicap. For example, in this article by Kate Becker, 2011 Laureate Adam Riess discusses the type of work that tends to win the Nobel: "I think the key is its importance must be fundamental, generally involving new physics."
|A screenshot from paperscape.org. Credit: paperscape.org|
|A close-up of a screenshot from paperscape.org. Go to the web-site for a much clearer picture. Credit: paperscape.org|
|Vera Rubin at the Kitt Peak 84-inch telescope in 1970. Credit: Carnegie Institution, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and Vera Rubin.|
|Rashid Sunyaev. Credit: Rashid Sunyaev.|
This list of possibilities is not meant to be complete, and I'm sure there are better judges than me. What important and potentially Nobel-worthy work in astrophysics have I missed?