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Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Englert and Higgs (nobelprize.org)
329 points by mattheww on Oct 8, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

They say that professor Higgs is shy and not at all comfortable with the attention and almost as hard to find as his particle.

They couldn't contact him initially because he was away without a phone. If you want to be effective.... (He certainly isn't wasting part of his evening reading HN like me)

I'm sensing you're being facetious, but not knowing the personalities involved, what does this mean? Is he a notorious publicity hound?

Means pretty much what it says, Professor Higgs is quite uncomfortable with publicity.

Apparently, he's on holiday right now, with no phone / email. Almost certainly deliberately.

facetious? That's a good humor.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind people of the (sometimes a little forgotten) other person name-checked in the Higgs Boson: Satyendra Nath Bose.


He was an interesting chap!

He certainly had an interesting life, but I don't think the person giving their name to half the particles in the universe can be called ‘a little forgotten’.

Ha. True.

But, I'm not sure people know that a Boson is named after him at all and if they do I'd bet they assume (like I once did) that Bose was some German or Hungarian bloke.

(Mind you, I also thought that the Bose of Bose Corporation[1] would have been a European rather than Indian descent, too. Clearly, I have some prejudice I need to work out).

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amar_Bose

Also one thing to keep in mind is that there are two eminent Bengali scientists named Bose -- there is of course Satyen Bose but there is also Jagadish Chandra Bose: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagadish_Chandra_Bose

That's funny because "böse" in German means "evil" or "nasty". I don't know if anybody has that surname, but I would suspect not.

Wikipedia mentions a couple of ‘von Bose’, and I have to admit that I don’t see any particularly tight link between ‘Bose’ and ‘böse’ – the umlaut does have a special pronunciation, after all.

Good point, I guess native German speakers are better at forming that distinction automatically, whereas umlaut-free language speakers probably have a harder time of it.

That's funny because in the US, "bose" means crappy speakers with big marketing budget.

It's probably worth bringing up a couple other famous Indian scientists such as Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman. These three folks have made major contributions to science and mathematics, in the same league as, say, Heisenberg, Bohr, or Riemann. And even though there are important phenomena or properties named after them (e.g. Raman spectroscopy, Chandrasekhar limit, etc.) as people they are far, far less well known than European scientists.

I don't think those 3 are any less well-known than other physicists and mathematicians of similar accomplishments. Ramanujan, in particular, because of his romantic story, is far more well known than his influence might suggest. His intellect might well have been the equal of Riemann's, but one can't honestly say his contributions even approach Riemann's. The same goes for the the physicists - Bohr was one of the three or four most important physicists of the last century, and Heisenberg was one of the top 10, probably.

"While standing around at the back of morning assembly Higgs noticed a name that appeared more than once on the school's honours board. Higgs wondered who PAM Dirac was and read up on the former pupil. He learned that Paul Dirac was a founding father of quantum theory, and the closest Britain had to an Einstein. Through Dirac, Higgs came to relish the arcane world of theoretical physics."


This is great news, and comes as a bit of relief to some. I remember talking with a professor at the University of Edinburgh who was concerned about delays with CERN referencing the fact that the Nobel prize isn't awarded posthumously, and not as many are saying, not for theory without proof. Really glad to see he made it!

is the nobel prize still the cornerstone of rewarding achievement in the sciences?

sorry to be so snarky, but i am genuinely interested, having long lost any trust in the peace prize comittee[0]. not to speak of the economics prize (which is not really a nobel prize [1])

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_Peace_Prize_laure...

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Memorial_Prize_in_Economi...

edit: formatting

The Peace Prize and the science prizes have very little to do with each other except that all the prizes (except the economy prize, as you pointed out) was created by Alfred Nobel. The science prizes are awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, while the Peace Prize is awarded by a 5 member committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament. So in some sense the Peace Prize is a political prize from the start, even if I don't think it was Nobel's intention.

Yes, the Nobel prize is still the creme de la creme of prizes (in physics).

Source: Me, a physics PhD student who has met a few Nobel laureates

P.S. It's amazing how much universities and people like to affiliate with Nobel laureates just because of their award, and not their science. When I was at a university where a professor won the Nobel prize, he gave a talk identical to one held the previous year. Before the prize, about 10 people showed up. After the prize, hundreds showed up and couldn't fit in the room.

At Berkeley, Nobel laureates get a parking spot on campus.

And they also often get streets named after them, at least on the hill.

And elements, but I digress.

I certainly lost a lot of faith in the Nobel peace prize when they gave it to Obama. It seemed like a political gesture more than a true recognition of significant accomplishments.

The Nobel Peace Prize was a joke before Obama.


it took you this long? They awarded it to Al Gore for climate change awareness (has alot to do with peace i guess?) Even worse, they have awarded it to supporters of terrorism(Arafat), and other violent types of people(Mandela).

Gandhi never won the prize.

One reason being he died unexpectedly (assassination). The Nobel Peace Prize also wasn't awarded that year due to no suitable living candidates, which can be considered an acknowledgement of him.

Ahh, you are correct, apparently he has his own peace prize.

It's still considered the peak in the sciences.

The economics price is much newer ("Memorial", as you cite), although also very prestigious in its own field, and Peace is not really a science.

This article provides some historical context to today's prize.


Robert Brout would almost surely be sharing the prize if it could be awarded posthumously.

I often saw him and Francois Anglert when doing my Ph.D. Robert Brout in particular struck me as the kindest man on earth, and was perhaps someone who though even deeper and more profoundly than Francois Anglert.

Anyone with more insight know if this was overdue, but finally awarded after confirmation last year at CERN, or if it was pushed forward while last year's work was fresh in people's minds?

The Nobel committee doesn't give out the prize for theoretical advances that aren't backed up by experiment. Since the data was not yet overwhelmingly conclusive at this time last year, this year's award was basically the earliest possible award date for a decades-old idea.

"aren't backed up by experiment"

Sadly, I was expecting arguments by string theorists along the lines of the longbets.org bet for $2000 that no one is going to get a Nobel for anything related to string theory, but I guarantee we'll get ten times as much "Obama" instead.

Can't we please argue about that instead of making fun of our "concentration camp warmonger in chief", maybe just in one thread please?

This is likely among the last prizes we'll see in physics for a long time that has evidence to back it up.

The theory is so far ahead of the practice that things we think we understand just can't be tested in reasonable times. Look at what it took just to get the Boson data.

There's lots of things under the physics umbrella out there, and the Nobel committee has refrained for giving a prize for string theory or other speculative BSM physics for decades; there's no reason to think they'll change, especially given the recent downturn in the popularity of those fields. The Nobel isn't restricted to fundamental physics. You can look at the awards from the recent years to get a sense of what gets honored when there are no fundamental advances: laser spectroscopy, magnetoresistance, optical fibers, semiconductors, graphene, etc.

The graphene one still rubs everyone in the materials science community the wrong way. I haven't had a single professor bring it up in class without snorting derisively at the fact that the guys who discovered won a Nobel.

This means they're either really smart people who saw something the rest of the community didn't or lucked into something that they might not actually deserve. I'm not sure yet which is true.

I must emphatically disagree with your statement. There are plenty of very hard theoretical problems that experiments are regularly shedding new light on. The entire field of condensed matter and most of atomic, molecular and optical physics progress by both theory and experiment figuring out problems together.

Perhaps by "physics" you meant "particle physics"... but even in that field your statement would be hard to justify.

This is likely among the last prizes we'll see in physics for a long time that has evidence to back it up.

Not exactly. In condensed matter physics, theory and experiment are much more tightly coupled, and many experiments can be done on a table top with a few tens to a few hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment. Not all physics is multi-billion dollar colliders.


Edit: Ah, after reading the rest of the comments, I guess I have to agree with you.

Obama got the peace prize without any evidence.

Nobel Peace Prize != Nobel Physics Prize, in a similar way how Samsung != Samsung Heavy Industries.

Peace prize is given by a different committee.

As a Swede, it feels very important to point out that even though all the science laureates are chosen by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, we have nothing to do with the Peace Prize! That blame goes to the Norwegians.

I was unaware it was a separate committee. I apologize for my uninformed comment.

Really? What do you call Obama peace prize then.

The peace prize isn't awarded by the Nobel Committee, but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is an entirely separate organization.

With a much deeper sense of irony

Well first of all the peace prize is not a scientific prize. And the peace prize recipient is decided by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament and the physics prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish academy of Sciences (by actual scientist in the field).

stop this stupid comment.

Big mistake...

Hawkins also holding out for recognition if anyone finds confirmation of Hawking Radiation.

Hawkins? You mean Hawking?

Feynman on the Nobel Prize: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMaBmik4VYg

Apparently most commentators were expecting it. I wonder if there was a possibility that also the CERN team could be awarded the prize?

The award is for the theory that is confirmed. The people of CERN didn't get awarded because they didn't come up with the theory, they just tested it.

Well... no. Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer were awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for the discovery of the W and Z particles (January 1983). Glashow, Salam and Weinberg were awarded with it in 1979, before the Electroweak Theory was fully confirmed, although there were solid hints at that time, it was a bit premature.

I'm really not too happy about this because the Nobel prize has shunned deserving scientists again. The consensus is that this mechanism can be attributed to three papers, One from Englert and Brout, another from Higgs, and yet another from Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble.

The silly rule of having to give the award to at most three living authors rules out Brout and, as it would be a problem to choose one of GHK (because they signed in alphabetical order, good for them) it's too obvious why they're out, even when the current understanding of the theory can be traced back to their string of papers.

This is not the first time: for instance, nobody really understands why Cabibbo wasn't awarded some years ago along with Kobayashi and Maskawa... for the CKM matrix!

GHK published their paper later in the year (although they apparently arrived at the result independently..), which might be why they were left out.

In 1962 P.W. Anderson worked out that Nambu–Goldstone massless mode can combine with the massless gauge field modes to produce a massive vector field (e.g. the so-called "higgs-mechanism", but in a non-relativistic context). In 1964 E&B,H,GHK showed that this is also possible in a relativistically invariant theory.

Here's a twitter comment from John Preskill (caltech): "The emphasis on finding a relativistic model may be misplaced, though. Anderson understood the mechanism well." https://twitter.com/preskill/status/387580651664191488

So maybe Anderson is more deserving of the last spot than GHK.

Civilized behavior would imply private splitting of the cash, at least. I can't remember an example of that ever happening with any Nobel award in any field, although its probably happened. One of those things I'm not sure how to google for without getting 99% unrelated. If done completely privately there may be no public record of any sort...

I've always had the impression that the cash is the least important part of a Nobel prize. Even if you're being purely mercenary about it, Nobel laureates can probably get paid speaking engagements whenever they want. But it's the prestige that really matters, and I suspect that for most scientists a share of the cash would be a poor substitute.

As a physicist: There are lots of good reasons to go into physics. Doing it for the money probably isn't one of them.

They often award the physics prize for experimentally verifying a theoretical prediction. For example, they awarded the prize to Paul Dirac for predicting the existence of the positron, and to Carl Anderson for confirming it.

I guess the committee thought the theory was a more important achievement than the prove.

Unlikely. Attribution in this case is a very thorny issue. People have been discussing it for decades.

There may yet be an experimental prize, especially once the experimental work at LHC is complete. From a physics perspective, LHC has only just begun. For the Higgs alone, its spin has not yet been conclusively measured; it's an important parameter.

Even one jury member (Anders Barany) publicly stated his own doubts on the subject: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=d...

While I agree with your comment, I'd leave out the 'just' part.

I think at most 3 people can be named for each nobel price.

The European Union won it before. So I think organizations are fine.

EU won the peace prize, which is an entirely separate award from the science prize and handled by an entirely separate committee operating under entirely separate rules.

Organizations can't be awarded the science prizes.

Any references on that?

The statutes of the Nobel Foundation, § 4 reads (in part and translated): "If a work that is being rewarded has been produced by two or three persons, the prize shall be awarded to them jointly. In no case may a prize amount be divided between more than three persons."

Source: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_organizations/nobelfoundatio...

It's a controversial restriction. Scientists rarely work alone anymore.

Agreed, but it's in the statutes, so the board has to abide by them (or risk liability). It's also non-trivial to change the statutes of a foundation ("stiftelse") in Sweden.

I was just listening to the news, and apparently over 3000 people were more or less involved with the work at CERN. I don't think the physics prize has ever been awarded to an institution like the peace prize has been in the past, and I think the Academy simply chose not to break tradition.

They could have awarded it to the CMS and ATLAS experiments as well. No need to award it to CERN.

That's not a significantly lower number of people.

And I would like to add that the people building the accelerator play a significant role too.

They can't award it to CERN or CMS or ATLAS. At most 3 individual people can split one prize.

the theoretical foundation for Higgs mechanism was first discovered by Jeffrey Goldstone from MIT:http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nambu-Goldstone_boson

Thanks, Englert and Higgs, thanks to you we won £300 at the pub quiz last night. You rock.

I think that there are about 15 events in the 125Gev bump.

Just sayin'....

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