1. 2013

    Obligatory musings on the Nobel Prize

    You’ve probably heard that the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded yesterday to François 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 …

  2. 2012

    On the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics

    I’ve been so caught up with other things that I completely forgot to follow up on my last post about the Nobel Prize and the (presumed) Higgs discovery. But really, there’s not much to follow up on. The Higgs boson did not get the prize, which seems eminently fair because it’s not totally confirmed yet. Next year’s Nobel award will likely come at the perfect time for the Higgs results to get it. And this year’s recipients, Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland, have done some spectacular work on partial measurements of quantum states in quantum optical systems, paving the way toward construction of a quantum computer. (No, I don’t really know what they did. You should read about it, though. I will!)

  3. 2012

    Nobel Prize for the Higgs? Meh, maybe

    The physics community online is abuzz with speculation about who will be awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. And in a lot of people’s minds, the announcement by ATLAS and CMS in July of a new particle, widely expected to be the Higgs boson, is the leading candidate.

    Certainly nobody doubts that between the theoretical discovery of the Higgs mechanism and the experimental discovery of the presumed Higgs boson, there’s more than enough to deserve a Nobel Prize. And I hope and expect that some subset of the scientists involved will get it eventually. But I think making that announcement this year would be a little premature. For starters, we don’t actually know that it is the Higgs boson that was discovered at the LHC. Sure, it has a mass in the right range, and it decays to the right particles, but possibly in the wrong amounts. That could indicate that there is some extra effect that modifies the properties of the Higgs boson from what was predicted, or that it’s not the Higgs at all. The LHC will shed more light on that over the coming years, so it seems sensible to wait …