Obligatory musings on the Nobel Prize

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You’ve probably heard that the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded yesterday to Fran├žois Englert and Peter Higgs, for the theoretical prediction of the Higgs boson. You’ve probably also heard all the commotion leading up to the announcement, about how silly it is that Nobel Prizes are awarded only to three people. And you may have noticed that I didn’t weigh in.

Frankly, that’s because I didn’t really care. I’m sure it’s a big deal to the recipients and non-recipients of the prize, but to the rest of us, the work done by all six authors stands on its own merits. The community of physicists doesn’t need a prize to tell them whose research leads to a better understanding of the universe — and in the end, even if you ask most Nobel Prize winners, understanding the universe is what makes doing science worthwhile, not getting recognition.

If this year’s debate gets people to look more closely at the actual science being done, and put less emphasis on who gets labeled a Nobel Prize winner, that can only be a good thing.

I’ll leave you with the links to the Nobel-winning papers, all of which are free to download from the Physical Review Letters website: the paper by Englert and Brout, the paper by Higgs, and the paper by Guralnik, Hagen, and Kibble. And also, my own more accessible explanation of the Higgs mechanism from this very blog.