The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to….

By Marcus Wilson 09/10/2013 5

….Well, what do you think? No surprises this year.  Francois Englert and Peter Higgs have been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in physics for the theoretical 'discovery' of the Higgs mechanism. The citation, however, I find very interesting:

for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted funamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

First of all, can one 'discover' something theoretically? Sure, one can predict the presence of something theoretically, but can it be discovered by a piece of theoretical analysis? I'll let you debate the semantics of 'discovery'. 

Then, note how the prize isn't given for the discovery of the Higgs Boson.  The word 'boson' doesn't get a mention at all, in fact, though it is implied by the words 'predicted fundamental particle'.  The boson is merely a piece of experimental evidence  – a rather key piece, it has to be said, given it's the only thing about the Higgs mechanism that is really observable – but still only a piece of evidence for the Higgs mechanism. It is the explanation of the origin of mass that is the notable thing here.

Well, actually, not quite. Note how the citation is for "…a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass…" It stops short of saying that the Higgs mechanism explains it. Is there more to come?

Then finally the experimental credit is given. The Nobel Prize isn't generally awarded to large teams of people. The ATLAS and CMS teams are vast indeed (see the list of authors on the ATLAS and CMS Higgs Boson discovery papers here and here) but these teams are rightfully given credit for their part in confirming the Higgs mechanism.

So, well done to you all. 

5 Responses to “The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to….”

  • I think (my 2 cents) they shouldn’t award prizes for fairys (oops I mean theories). But rather practicle things that are going to help the world for our children.

  • A fair point, but it’s hard to tell at the time what new breakthroughs in science are going to lead to fantastic new applications for the good of humanity in the future. Curie, Rutherford, Bragg, Chadwick… were the full implications of their work for modern medicine realized at the time they received their awards …I suspect not. Give it fifty, a hundred years, then ask the question.

  • Seems to be the way, except for things like “Broken Symmetry in electro magnetics” by Lee and Yang in 1957. Which was almost instantaneous.
    Be great if Pons and Flieschman got one.

  • electrickiwi

    I suspect Pons and Fleischman will receive a Nobel prize when cold fusion is demonstrated to be a true phenomena and when useful applications of it are demonstrated – as you yourself have suggested there should be practical results, perhaps when we all have cold fusion generators powering our homes?