Nobel for Englert and Higgs

Congratulations to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs, awarded the 2013 physics Nobel prize this morning. Evidently the prize announcement was delayed because they were unable to reach Higgs by phone. Surely he wasn’t unaware that today was a day he might be getting an early morning phone call…

The Higgs discovery last year was one of the great milestones of fundamental physics research and it would have been very odd for the Nobel committee Swedish Academy of Sciences to not recognize it with a prize this year. I do think though that the way they chose to do this is not ideal, for a couple reasons.

The first is that this was foremost an experimental achievement, but the experimentalists and their work remains unrecognized. The thousands of physicists and engineers of CERN, LHC and ATLAS have accomplished something amazing by working together, but this makes them somehow ineligible for the Nobel. As far as the Nobel goes they make the mistake of running their collaborations relatively democratically, without a “great man” (or “great woman”) who could stand out and be awarded a prize.

Another issue with today’s choice is that if you do want to emphasize a model of scientific research where advances come from a specific “great man” theorist, in this case they’ve left out the greatest one involved. The specific model tested at the LHC was not that of Englert and Higgs, but the one that Weinberg and Salam already got a prize for. The new prize is for the general mechanism, but this is something that was first understood by Philip Anderson a couple years before Englert and Higgs. For some details of the history, see here. The argument is often made that Anderson’s model was not relativistic, but this is a phenomenon for which relativity is not relevant, something which Anderson understood.

The Nobel prize announcement comes with a detailed discussion of the history, which discusses extensively Anderson’s work. It makes the argument that relativity was a crucial issue, and summarizes the situation with:

This was a very important step forward showing that one could indeed have massive vector particles without having a massless mode, but it did now show how the same phenomenon would work in a relativistically invariant theory. Anderson concluded by saying “We conclude then, that the Goldstone zero-mass difficulty is not a serious one, because we can probably cancel it off against an equal Yang-Mills zero-mass problem.”

Weirdly, this paragraphs contains a crucial typo. I assume they meant to write “it did not show” instead of “it did now show”.

The authors refer to what is usually called the “Higgs mechanism” as the “BEH Mechanism”, but it seems to me that if you want to insist on adding more names to the usual terminology, “Anderson-Higgs” would be better.

As far as the Nobel goes, Anderson already has one, given for other work, and maybe this is one reason he was left out this time (although getting multiple Nobel prizes is not unprecedented). Congratulations to him and the LHC experimentalists today, as well as to Englert and Higgs.

Update: Jon Butterworth has some similar comments at the Guardian, especially about the “lone genius” model for progress in science.

Update: For more from Anderson about his work on this topic, see interviews by Chandra, Coleman and Sondhi at the AIP oral history site here. One of the things I find most surprising about this history is that Brout was in close contact with Anderson during this period, but does not refer to Anderson’s 1963 paper in the original Brout-Englert paper, or in later discussions of the history (see here). Here’s Anderson’s account:

during this period I was in fairly close contact with Bob Brout. Later on, one of the co-inventors of the Higgs mechanism is Brout with Francois Englert. Bob spent several summers with us down at Bell and I know that I talked many of these things over with him. So he was definitely one of my sources for knowledge about particle physics, along with John Ward to a much, much lesser extent. Therefore, when I was recently helping edit one of the accounts of the recent Nobel Prize and noticed that they ascribed the idea, they call it Higgs, Brout, Englert, which I’d never heard, I realized that actually Brout and Englert had a fairly considerable influence on the whole development(must have gotten their ideas from me). So I had thought that it just fell into a black hole and Higgs reinvented it and everybody called it the Higgs mechanism because of that, but in fact, it is in the linear chain of what eventually led to t’ Hooft and Veltman. So I was quite happy with that.

Update: John Preskill comments “The emphasis on finding a relativistic model may be misplaced, though. Anderson understood the mechanism well.”

Update: There’s an interesting story here about the final decision process and the delay in the announcement. Evidently the way things work is that the Nobel Committee (see here for members) proposes up to three candidates. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences meets at 9:30 am, debates the matter, makes a decision, with the announcement of the decision scheduled for 11:45 am. Earlier today though, something unusual happened, requiring delay by at least an hour (maybe two, one source says the announcement was at 13:45 it was at 12:45). Supposedly Higgs was not reachable by phone, but that seems unlikely to have been the cause of the delay since it was known in advance that this would be the case. The press story quotes the academy’s permanent secretary as giving as reason “There were many people who had a lot to say”.

Unfortunately the rule is that deliberations are kept secret for 50 years, so I’ll be long gone before it is known what happened at this meeting today.

Update: It took two days, but the Swedes finally fixed their typo. Now Anderson “did not show how the same phenomenon would work in a relativistically invariant theory.”

Update: C. R. Hagen, the “H” in “GHK”, sent me the following commentary on the document about the prize put out by the Swedish Academy.

It is difficult to take seriously the document put forth by the Swedish Academy which purports to explain the basis for their Nobel award.

“Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013

The BEH-Mechanism, Interactions with Short Range Forces and Scalar Particles”

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2013/advanced-physicsprize2013.pdf

Plainly and simply stated its unnamed author(s) does not understand the mechanism which they are attempting to explain to the physics and world communities. The report in dealing with the Brout-Englert paper reads “The Goldstone theorem holds in the sense that that Nambu-Goldstone mode is there but it gets absorbed into the third component of a massive vector field.”

This assessment clearly demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the mass generation and Goldstone avoidance mechanisms associated with spontaneous broken symmetry. In fact as shown by Guralnik, Hagen, and Kibble (GHK) in 1964 the missing longitudinal mode of the vector meson comes from one of the two scalar particles in the model (the other being the so-called “God Particle” recently alleged to have been found at the LHC).

There is no way to explain this incredible blunder by the Swedish Academy. In their desire to marginalize the GHK paper they have failed to understand its real contribution and have certainly failed to comprehend that the Coulomb gauge analysis of that work makes totally credible and understandable the route whereby the expected Goldstone boson is eliminated from the physical sector.

-C.R. Hagen

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74 Responses to Nobel for Englert and Higgs

  1. Bernhard says:

    Yes, I agree leaving Anderson out of the picture is unfair, but for political reasons – cutting the throat of the SSC, being unsympathetic to HEP experimentalists, being an anti-particle physics voice, already having a Nobel, etc – they decided to leave him out. I guess this is understandable, since awarding him the prize would generate a huge polemic, something Swedes are not very keen on…

    That said, I think their choice is not bad at all . Giving the price to the experiments could only be achieved giving it to the whole collaborations – without citing any specific names. It could be done of course, but giving it to the collaboration´s spokespersons would have been even a worse choice.

    Then, considering the discovery was sort of a (monumental, but still) confirmation.. it´s not crazy to award the theorists.

    If ATLAS, CMS or other LHC-experiment discover BSM physics (especially if unpredicted) then they will have to face how to solve these dilemmas, but for now I can see why they chose not to do it.

  2. Brown says:

    Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble take notice, saying you didn’t read prior work doesn’t cut it as far as getting the Nobel is concerned.

    Anderson is debatable

    This reminds of the similar Gallo/Montagnier “controversy” regarding HIV.

    Again the Nobel went to the right people.

  3. Walt says:

    I assume that one consideration is that Higgs and Englert are more likely to die suddenly in the next year than are the staffs of ATLAS and CMS.

  4. tulpoeid says:

    About the phone call, since there is an official statement by him I guess he got it the day _before_, as it always happens. Personally I thought that the delay took place to tip experimentalists to return to their offices and leave the champagnes down, but luckily I was wrong :)

    About the rest, I wonder why we have to remind ourselves the 3 persons rule each year. Although I hope that “persons” will turn to “entities” for the first time really soon. (Think lhc, atlas, cms.)

  5. AcademicLurker says:

    Given the number of potential candidates, should we be reading any significance into the fact that they chose to award the prize to only 2 people instead of 3?

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  7. D says:

    Robert Brout (1928 – 2011). R.I.P.

  8. Michael Jennings says:

    Theoreticians don’t usually get Nobels until there is experimental confirmation of their work. This year was the first year in which they could reasonably be given the award for this reason. However, as they are very old, there was something of a hurry if they were to get the award at all.

    On the other hand, the experimentalists involved in this are much younger. There is plenty of time to give them an award in some future year, possibly after more work can be done in figuring out who exactly to give it to.

    I don’t think the choice to give the award to the theoreticians reflects any more than this.

  9. anon says:

    Am I the only one who is slightly relieved that our hordes of LHC data analyzers won’t be lording it around the corridors today with their 0.01% of a Nobel prize?

  10. Peter Woit says:

    AcademicLurker,
    I suppose you could read this a serious dis to Anderson, as in “unlike some other people we could mention, there was room for you, but too bad.”

    anon,
    Yes.

  11. vmarko says:

    I think that the Nobel was given for the theoretical prediction, rather than experimental confirmation/discovery. The same thing happened in 1957, when the prize was given to Yang and Lee for the prediction of the parity violation, rather than to madame Wu and others who have actually measured the effect.

    If Atlas and CMS groups eventually measure some BSM effect that nobody has predicted so far, that will probably be considered a “new discovery”, rather than “confirmation of a theoretical prediction”. They could get a Nobel for that new thing, but not for the discovery of the Higgs particle.

    At least that is my guess about the thinking of the Nobel committee. :-)

    Best, :-)
    Marko

  12. Kavanna says:

    Good for Dr. Higgs.

    Leaving out Anderson is debatable, although understandable. Kibble is the other one who might have been considered. The others often mentioned were not as early or as seminal.

  13. martibal says:

    Experimentalists at CERN already got the fundamental physics prize, which is almost 3 times the amount of money of the Nobel. Did any voice raise at this time to regret that none of the theoreticians of the Higgs mechanism were awarded ?
    Also, without the scope of discovering the Higgs boson, what would have been the justification to build LHC ?
    (these two questions are real questions, I am not being sarcastic).

  14. GoletaBeach says:

    Higgs gets out an about a whole lot more than Salinger. He has lots of close friends. Nice to see Ken Peach quoted, for example.

    Nobel Prizes aren’t ever perfect… No-Bell to Hewish, Hahn not Meitner, etc. To err is human, and the prize committee is merely human.

    A vast amount of experimental work over the last 40 years has filled the tables that parametrize the Standard Model. A certain segment of those parameters indicated a light Higgs and led to the persuasive arguments that caused the designs of CMS and ATLAS (good em calorimeters & lepton id).

    The only prize that really matters is getting the physics right both empirically and theoretically.

    BTW, nice discussion of Migdal & Polyakov in the Nobel Citation. Pretty good discussion of precision electroweak & LEPII as well. I felt a commitment to fairness in the Citation.

  15. fuzzy says:

    the role of gauge invariance for a qed was noted 3 years before the paper of weyl

    http://ufn.ru/ufn10/ufn10_8/Russian/r108h.pdf

  16. Z says:

    Maybe Kibble et al will get their prize in next year’s three slots. Is it too soon to speculate? (Yes)

  17. Nathalie says:

    The Nobel Prize is not awarded by the Nobel Committee but by the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

  18. srp says:

    It used to be that the physics Nobels were for recent work and the economics prizes were lifetime achievement awards for old guys. Now the timelines are crossing.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Nathalie,
    Thanks. This made me aware that the Nobel Committee just proposes laureates, it is the Swedish Academy of Sciences that makes the final decision and award.

  20. Neil says:

    I will leave it to others to opine whether omitting Anderson on merits was justifiable. But if he was omitted because “he already has a prize”, then the whole process is a travesty.

  21. gs says:

    1. I starting reading this site for the soap opera back when the string community was in full denial about the experimental situation. My understanding of the science may be little better than a layman’s.

    2. Having said that:

    In 1977 Anderson shared the prize with Mott and Van Vleck despite being from the following generation. Maybe Anderson was chosen at that time because John Slater had died in 1976.

    Sounds like a bit of karmic balance (but afaic Anderson unquestionably deserves recognition at the Nobel level).

  22. Ray says:

    It shouldn’t be forgotten that both Brout and Higgs are Europeans whereas Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble are Americans. I suspect that European bias played not too small a part in the decision. I have seen a lot of Europeans referring to the Higgs mechanism as the BEH mechanism long before this. (Kiritsis’s “String Theory in a Nutshell” does this consistently.)

    On a different note Sasha Polyakov and Sasha Migdal discovered the Higgs mechanism independently of the Western physicists around the same time. This was all the more impressive considering that they were both teenagers at that time. No one in Russia took their paper seriously and of course they probably had no effect on Western science. In Sasha Migdal’s words, “For the whole two years 1964 to 1966 JETP refused to publish our work with Sasha Polyakov “Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking of Strong Interaction and Absence of Massless Particles” where we (correctly!) argued that vector mesons of the Yang-Mills Theory must acquire mass by absorbing zero mass Goldstone particles. We were stomped to the ground at every seminar we tried to present this work at. The most disturbing thing was that nobody would even argue with us on the subject — the mere mention of “Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking” caused healthy laughter, which ended the conversation. Independently this effect was discovered and published by Higgs and rightfully is called Higgs Phenomenon.” (From http://alexandermigdal.com/prose/paradise1.shtml)

    I find it very intriguing that nobody even mentions this fact whenever this controversy breaks out.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    To be honest, I’ve never understood the argument for Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble, or Migdal-Polyakov. The Migdal-Polyakov paper was submitted for publication November 30, 1965, more than a year after all the others, and very specifically was about the strong interactions. It’s an interesting independent development, but it would be absurd to award it a prize for the Higgs.
    Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble, despite a campaign to claim that they did everything independently and better, explicitly refer to and discuss the earlier Brout-Englert and Higgs work, denying themselves priority. I just took another look at their paper, and noticed something I’ve never seen before: it ends with the sentence “preliminary investigations indicate that superconductivity displays an analogous behavior”. This is remarkably clueless, given Anderson’s work, which they would have known about if they’d looked into the relation to superconductivity at all.

    That said, European chauvinism may have had a small part to play in denying a piece of the award to Anderson, although his views on the SSC and his already having a prize are probably more important factors. I just reread the “scientific background” paper released today, and remarkably it seems to me that it could just about as easily be read as justifying an Anderson prize as not. Also remarkably, it still contains the crucial typo giving the opposite conclusion to the one intended about the relation of his work to the relativistic case. This is very odd, since I would have guessed that paragraph would have been among the ones read most closely by those using it to make or justify a decision.

  24. Visitor says:

    To me, awarding a Nobel Prize (or any other prize) to an organization is indistinguishable from awarding it to the *administrators* of that organization.

  25. Peter Woit says:

    Visitor,
    Well, in the case of ATLAS and CMS, those running the organization are the scientists themselves. I suppose that if they had a less-democratic policy of appointing one scientist CEO, those two people would now have Nobel Prizes. In that case though, I think the difference between giving a prize to the collaboration and a prize to the CEO would be noticeable.

  26. Tom Weidig says:

    >> Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble are Americans.

    As far as I know Kibble is British. He has been a professor at Imperial College for decades. When I did my Master’s there and talked to him, he came across to me being English.

  27. A. says:

    Peter Woit,

    The announcement was at 12:45 CET (I’m in CE and watched it).

    There was a question posed immediately after the announcement about why no experimentalists were awarded the prize. If someone managed to grab the video and has a link to it, I’ll translate the answer.

  28. Bernhard says:

    …. and here more on the internal dispute that caused the delay:

    http://www.thelocal.se/50690/20131009/

  29. fuzzy says:

    i guess that nbc assumed the correctness of the following statements:

    “Theorists believe that the SM most probably is but a low-energy approximation of a more complete theory. If this were not so, quantum mechanical corrections to the Higgs mass would drive mH towards the Planck scale – unless “unnatural” cancellations occur”

    let’s analyze them. the higgs mass is known. it is not even similar to the planck mass. then, *assuming* the above statements are correct, we conclude that the sm is only a low-energy approximation of a more complete theory.

    not difficult to see the mistakes. the sm is a renormalizable theory (veltman and ‘t hooft). its parameters are known after we measure them. there are no quantum mechanical corrections that “would drive” anything inside the sm, as instead stated by the royal academy.

    if one wants to discuss another theory, why not? e.g., the supersymmetric models do not predict its mass scale; it has baryon- and lepton-number violating effects that are not seen; it do not predict anything that is measured. not clear to me why we need to discuss it in the “outlook” of such an important document.

  30. El-Coco says:

    Peter, you’ve got to think positively. You could easily be alive and well in 50 years.

  31. Håkan Eriksson says:

    The citation for the prize this year was: “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 fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”

    I hope people realize that the last part naming ATLAS and CMS collectives is unprecedented. Such recognition of third parties have not been done before. So it’s pretty unfair to say the experimentalists and their work remains unrecognized.

  32. Bernhard says:

    Håkan Eriksson,

    I agree. The fact that ATLAS and CMS are two separate entities perhaps even played a role on the impossibility of awarding the experimentalists directly (like they were two other “persons) and the solution was to recognize them in the citation. I´m sure this was a headache for the academy. The third solution I guess would be to award CERN, as representative of both experiments, but this also not ideal, since CERN is a lab that represents other LHC experiments, not only ATLAS and CMS.

  33. Aquiles says:

    The BaBar and Belle experiments were also mentioned in the 2008 Nobel press release… (and by the way, even the then-future LHC is mentioned)

  34. Bernhard says:

    Aquiles,

    Yes, but this carries much less weight than the Nobel citation.

  35. Peter Woit says:

    Bernhard/fuzzy,

    I also noticed the rather odd appearance of SUSY and “naturalness” at the end of the scientifc document. No mention there though of the other big achievement of the LHC, the negative results about SUSY.

    At least we can all be happy that this didn’t make it into the prize citation, which I suppose could have been for the “discovery of the first of five predicted fundamental particles, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

  36. Columbia says:

    Anderson’s ideas were a little too vague too award a Nobel prize too. Although I have no doubt he had all the major elements in place, and would have found it himself if he had bothered to flush out the material.

    I’m a little surprised that Goldstone wasn’t picked. In some sense he’s the odd man out, now that the prizes for Nambu, Weinberg et al, and the Higgs selection is complete.

    His work is arguably much more theoretically important and universal than the messy details of the Higgs mechanism perse. It’s important to note that all three groups were specifically looking for a method around the Goldstone theorem and was the main motivations for those papers.

  37. Shantanu says:

    Peter: the announcement was at 12:45 (not 13:45)

  38. Moe says:

    Guralnik compares the papers here in this video. Whether you agree with all his points, I give him credit for comparing the three PRL papers. I have not seen other comparisons by the original 6 and find that he demonstrates his knowledge on the topic better than others – certainly “My Life as a Boson” speech.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLZ78gwWQI0

  39. Jim says:

    We live in an age in which scientists are a lot more media savvy than they ever were and will willingly rush to embrace opportunities to promote themselves and their work. I admire Peter Higgs’ decision to shun the media (he’s 84 years old, after all). I had the privilege to meet him in August 2011, when speculation of an imminent discovery at CERN was rife. He told me that, in the event of overwhelming attention from the media following an announcement from the Royal Swedish Academy, he would simply unplug his phone and refuse to answer his doorbell. I’m not the least surprised that the Academy couldn’t get him on the phone yesterday. For those hungry for his reaction, however, he will be giving a press briefing at the University of Edinburgh at 11am (GMT) on Friday, 11 October. The briefing will be webcast from http://www.ed.ac.uk.

    I have to say I’m a little concerned about the outbreak of rather nationalistic sentiments in the comments on Peter’s blog post. Are some American high-energy physicists are still carrying the mental scars of the SSC experience, after all this time? As Tom Weidig has pointed out, Tom Kibble is British (I believe he was born in India). Also, although Robert Brout was working with Francois Englert in Belgium in 1964, he was born in New York in 1928. Had he lived (he sadly died in 2011, after a long illness) he would have surely shared the Nobel Prize with Englert and Higgs.

  40. Sebastian Thaler says:

    Meanwhile, John Horgan has put his own characteristically pessimistic spin on this news: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/10/08/could-nobel-prize-for-god-particle-be-last-gasp-for-particle-physics/

  41. Kavanna says:

    After all, Peter, we could still be alive in 50 years, still wondering when supersymmetry will be found.

    Nonetheless! After about 85 years, the Standard Model, beginning with the Dirac and Klein-Gordon equations and ending with the discovery of the Higgs boson, is now fully cooked.

  42. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Jim,
    The reaction of Higgs to the media attention is admirable. As for

    “Are some American high-energy physicists are still carrying the mental scars of the SSC experience, after all this time?”

    I fear the answer is definitely yes, and to some extent there’s good reason, since the effect of this event on US experimental HEP was disastrous and still being felt.

  43. SUSY says:

    If LHC discovers SUSY particles, who gets awarded the Nobel?
    If direct dark matter detectors discover dark matter, who gets awarded the Nobel?

  44. FNesti says:

    Peter, fuzzy
    mentioning the current spectrum of naturalness-related BSM theories has the twofold aim of 1) praising the current mainstream theoretical ideas, which gives a reassuring impression of seriousness of the community; 2) using again these theories for the real closing: motivating the request for a future machine.

    Evidently, we can not ask (as Lederman) for a change in attitude: i.e. that experiments must be made to see, not to look for.

    I just came across a piece by Galileo, which just discovered the Milky-Way was made of stars (! and not of milk) _after_ building the telescope.
    And he concludes: through this instrument, one can see clearly that all discussions, century-long worry of philosophers, dissipate with the certitude of valid experience, and we are freed from sterile debates.

    … attraverso il cannocchiale si può vedere in modo così palmare che tutte le discussioni, per tanti secoli cruccio dei filosofi, si dissipano con la certezza della sensata esperienza, e noi siamo liberati da sterili dispute.

    I’d say, evidently history has some recurrent patterns :)

  45. Neil says:

    If LHC discovers SUSY particles, who gets awarded the Nobel?
    If direct dark matter detectors discover dark matter, who gets awarded the Nobel?

    Well, dark matter should be easy because it was hypothesized on the basis of evidence. So Rubin alone since Zwicky is dead.

  46. Marco Masi says:

    “The thousands of physicists and engineers of CERN, LHC and ATLAS have accomplished something amazing by working together, but this makes them somehow ineligible for the Nobel. As far as the Nobel goes they make the mistake of running their collaborations relatively democratically, without a “great man” (or “great woman”) who could stand out and be awarded a prize.”
    .
    But the “great man” (or woman) would finally be only the group leader. And in what sense would these be “great”? The group leaders of these research teams are great team managers, great policy makers and fund raiser (and I don’t mean that to be a negative trait, such kind of people play an important role in big science), but they are not (or are seldom) scientific geniuses, and are even not necessarily those who contribute at a scientific level. Eventually the Nobel policy should change towards the idea of assigning the prize also to a group or an organization as a whole. But the idea to favor the corporate minded personality over all the other scientists, amounts to a form of subtle idolatry of the manager type figure in science with which I definitely disagree with.

  47. A. says:

    We don’t really have to wait 50 years to find out about the Nobel deliberations; seeing the presentation which was apparently made to physicists on the Nobel committee (we’ve just seen the slides in a separate presentation), makes it clear that Anderson’s role was downplayed because he didn’t prove the statements he made about the relativistic generalisation of his results, while Weinberg’s contribution was downplayed because of his disagreement with Englert on renormalisability (Englert being right in the end, of course.)

  48. Marty says:

    The idea of awarding a Nobel prize to large collaborations doesn’t seem quite right to me. I don’t mean to downplay the great work and very significant findings of the CMS and Atlas teams. Certainly the discoveries themselves are in a class of Nobel-worthy discoveries; their importance is not at issue. My disagreement lies more in what would be a significant departure from recognizing individual achievement, something I thought was the intent of Nobel prizes in science.

    Thus far, whenever a Nobel was shared among multiple individuals, care was taken to ensure that each individual did Nobel-worthy work. If the current tradition were relaxed a bit so that, say, the prize could be awarded to up to five people, I’m confident each recipient would have done Nobel-worthy work. At what number of co-recipients does this idea of individual worthiness break down? I don’t know, but I feel sure it would break down with far fewer than the thousands of individuals comprising the CMS and Atlas collaborations.

    Can anyone honestly believe that each person in the Atlas collaboration, for example, deserves a Nobel prize for their individual work? Each grad student who pulled cables, kept an eye on the instruments in the control room, and wrote code to generate test data for event analysis software? Members of the collaboration who have devoted essentially all their energy looking for hints of SUSY or extra dimensions? If the collaboration were to receive a Nobel, all members would be treated as equally worthy of the Nobel regardless of their role. This doesn’t seem right to me — by treating everyone as equally important, as anonymous cogs in the Atlas or CMS teams, it cheapens the efforts and achievements of those who worked very hard and played an outsized role in the discovery while unduly rewarding those who played no significant role at all.

    I don’t think that awarding a Nobel to a spokesperson or other proxy for a collaboration is a good idea either, as others have pointed out. Perhaps we have reached a time when some of the most important discoveries will involve large collaborations with no single individuals playing such a large role that they deserve a Nobel prize. And that’s OK — not every huge discovery has to get a Nobel if doing so would depart from the intent of awarding individual achievement.

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