2017 Nobel Prize in Physics

At this point, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss of LIGO have (deservedly) won just about every scientific prize out there, for the first observation of gravitational waves. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t believe they’ll be getting the Physics Nobel tomorrow morning. With an open spot in the usual limitation to three (Ronald Drever passed away earlier this year), perhaps Barry Barish will also get the nod. Most appropriate would be to use the third slot to give an award to the entire LIGO collaboration, but it seems likely that the tradition of not honoring collaborations will continue. There will be a live webcast of the announcement at 5:45am EST available here.

Update: Congratulations to the winners. I think Natalie Wolchover speaks for all science journalists when she writes:

Thrilled they won, thrilled not to spend this morning speed-reading about some bizarre condensed matter phenomenon.

Update: A couple things I’ve learned from comments and other coverage of this:

  • Some physicists have no sense of humor and are either unaware of or ungrateful for the excellent job Natalie Wolchover and others at Quanta magazine have been doing in writing high-quality stories about a wider range of topics in physics than anyone else (see here and here, related here).
  • All evidence is that on October 16th we’ll get announcement of observation of gravitational waves with an optical counterpart, with details at this conference in Baton Rouge.

Last Updated on

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics

  1. J says:

    I vaguely remember that an individual could still be awarded a Nobel Prize even if he/she would pass away before announcement but after the nomination being received. So maybe Ronald Drever still got the chance. Well I may be wrong…

  2. sm says:

    I worry for a ‘miscarriage of justice’ if Pustovoit (’empty’ Voit!) is not seriously considered. He (with Gertsenshtein) proposed, to my mind beautifully clearly, with realistic sensitivity and noise estimates the basic experimental setup (vacuumized optical paths … ) and physics underpinning LIGO etc in 1962, long before anyone else in

    http://www.jetp.ac.ru/cgi-bin/dn/e_016_02_0433.pdf

    For a two page explanation how LIGO works (including an aside as to why Weber’s setup could never have worked!) it takes a lot of beating.

    In the interests of historical accuracy, if nothing else, this work needs to be cited at the Nobel ceremony. Let’s see!

  3. Thomas Larsson says:

    J, the winner must be alive at the time of the final decision, which happens very shortly before the announcement.

    An exception was the 2011 prize in medicine or physiology. The Nobel committee knew that Ralph Steinman was ill, checked that he was alive on Friday, the final vote and the announcement was on Monday, but Steinmann passed away on Saturday. It was then decided that he would nevertheless receive the prize posthumously, since the Nobel assembly had acted in good faith.

    I remember that I informed my wife, who is a member of the Nobel assembly, that they had awarded the prize to a dead person. She was not amused.

  4. Pingback: Physics Nobel for Pioneers of Gravitational Wave Astronomy – Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish — CommentWise

  5. Bernhard says:

    ” but it seems likely that the tradition of not honoring collaborations will continue.”

    It’s typical of Swedish mentality to to give all the credit to whoever is higher up in the hierarchy and something that, as I see it, will never change. Congratulations to the winners in any case.

  6. Shantanu says:

    Peter, I think condensed matter physicists might get offended by Natalie Wolchover ‘s comment. I am surprised by how quick the NB was announced after the discovery (only 2 years). OTOH nu mass discovery took 17 years by that time the founder of Super-K had passed away. accelerating universe also took 13 years and discovery of CMB anisotropies took 14 years.
    So is that there are no more nobel prizes in particle physics left to be given?

  7. Mats Larsson says:

    To sm:

    see reference 26 in Scientific background:

    https://6702d.https.cdn.softlayer.net/2017/10/sciback_fy_en_17.pdf

  8. Peter Morgan says:

    Seconding Shantanu. See http://nanoscale.blogspot.com/2017/10/gravitational-radiation-for-win.html for a condensed matter physicist offering a polite clearing of the throat.

  9. Mats Larsson says:

    In the Nobel will it says: “…during the preceding year…”

    According to the by-laws of the Nobel Foundation, §3:

    “To be eligible to be considered for a prize, a written work shall have been issued in print or have been published in another form, to be decided on its own behalf by each prize-awarding body.”

    The discovery of the first LIGO event was published on February 11, 2016.
    Thus, the discovery of GW could not be awarded in 2016.

  10. Robert Owczarek says:

    Replying to sn comment, in the 50s of the 20th century the theory of gravitational waves has been revived first by Hermann Bondi, then joined Pirani, Robinson, Trautman, Goldberg, Sachs and a few others. The reason for necessity of the revival was that Einstein himself almost killed the whole research by claiming that gravitational waves are probably removable by changing the reference system, and so unphysical, or, even if they are not removable, they do not transport any energy and so are undetectable, which basically means also that they are unphysical. New methods developed thanks to Petrov contribution of “objective” studies of general gravitational fields (and so finally independent of reference frames) and further expanded by the Bondi and followers allowed for finding many exact solutions of Einstein equations that describe different gravitational waves, and for studies of these waves and their sources, etc. Thus Bondi would be the first of this group who deserves the Nobel Prize, but he died in 2005. Recently died also Pirani and Robinson. Of the still alive members of this group Trautman’s contribution was certainly the biggest, so he deserved to be awarded. More on that here
    http://www.ams.org/publications/journals/notices/201707/rnoti-p686.pdf

  11. Peter Shor says:

    I think Natalie Wolchover was comparing how easy it is for journalists to explain LIGO, the 2017 Nobel Prize, as opposed to how easy it was for journalists to explain topological phases of matter, the 2016 Nobel Prize.

    I’m not sure whether she was including the Higgs particle (2013 Nobel) or blue LEDs (2014 Nobel) in the comparison. I would hope not.

  12. Maurice says:

    I second with Shantanu’s surprise that they awarded this prize so quickly. The
    Nobel committee ran a risk by breaking a rule that has never been broken in previous years as far I know: the prize is only given to an experimental discovery that has at least one independent confirmation.
    LIGO/VIRGO still reports serious backgrounds that they do not understand by their own account (also for the newest event GW170814).

    In the likely case that LIGO/VIRGO’s signals are no background, an independent confirmation is expected in the near future e.g. in the form of an astrophysical
    event detected with photons or neutrinos coincidentally with and from the same direction than a GW detection. The committee would have been well advised to wait until immediately after such a confirmation will be in.

    Let’s hope all goes well…

  13. Peter Woit says:

    I think Peter Shor has it right. Some of the recent Nobels have (for good reason) been given for condensed matter phenomena that have gotten little attention from journalists and are not easy to explain to the public (these two things are correlated…). Surely one should have some sympathy for science journalists expected to produce something sensible explaining the physics on a very short deadline (the Nobel doesn’t do what a lot of other organizations do, give journalists embargoed information early). For gravitational waves, given the topic and the huge amount of previous public attention, writing something this morning should have been a piece of cake.

    Bernard,

    In the LIGO case, there is a small number of people who started the thing and had a big impact on getting it to work, so rewarding them individually is not hard to justify. On this topic, see
    http://fictionalaether.blogspot.com/2017/10/woohoo-i-just-won-nobel-prize.html
    and
    http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/10/yet-another-year-in-which-you-havent.html

    In cases where there are no such people in a collaboration, but the collaboration is responsible for a huge scientific discovery (e.g. the Higgs), the Nobel policy is highly problematic, likely meaning such discoveries will never get recognized by them.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Shantanu,
    I think Nobel’s initial concept was to reward very recent work, with the prize in year X the most important development of year X-1. One problem with this is if the evidence is not overwhelming and you need separate confirmation (I don’t think that’s the case here, but don’t want to start a debate about that). Some of the long delays can be attributed to waiting for the evidence to be overwhelming, sometimes the relative importance of the discovery is more dubious, so there’s a wait until other more obviously important things have been rewarded.

    I don’t want to turn the discussion to HEP and its problems of lack of unexpected discoveries. If the LHC discovers anything unexpected that violates the Standard Model there should be a quick prize (except for the problem that the discovery may have been made by too many people…)

  15. To clarify, I fully recognize that Natalie Wolchover’s remark was likely meant to be both humorous and a comment on how hard it can be to explain some CM topics. It is a rather weird situation where talking about dark lepton sectors or black hole firewalls or emergent quantum gravity is somehow viewed as more accessible than much of CMP, but that’s where we are. This is a pet issue of mine, and clearly there is more work to do.

  16. simplicio says:

    Is there a generally known (or common guess) for why the prize has never been awarded for the discovery or study of Dark Matter? It seems to stick out as the only fundamental physics discovery developed in the latter half of the 20th century not to get a prize. And especially given fundamental physics discoveries have come at a rate of far less than 1/yr, its not like there just hasn’t been any room to fit it in.

  17. Shantanu says:

    Peter (or others), do you remember how much interest the 1993 Nobel prize in Physics (which was also for GWs) generated among journalists/physicists/audience compared to 2017 one?
    Would be curious to know
    Thanks

  18. HEP theorist says:

    Douglas Natelson,

    I think that condensed matter theorists have a culture of valuing very technical insights and computations, and being very upfront about it. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact it’s pretty admirable. But it has an unfortunate side effect. Compare power-points written by leaders in condensed matter theory vs leaders in high energy theory. The former always have very busy slides, many plots with tiny fonts, many diagrams. The latter like masking computations and giving elegant sound bites. (Not saying there are no computations behind them!) It’s no wonder that the latter is more easily picked up by science journalists. It’s a credit to the Nobel team for not succumbing too easily to media pressure and for valuing condensed matter research.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Shantanu,

    My impression is that the actual physics Nobel awards get much the same amount of attention, independent of the topic. It’s usually just a one day story, similar amount of media coverage. I don’t remember 1993, different times, different kind of press. but I bet most of the press covered it. The result itself got much less attention, since it was indirect and much less spectacular.

  20. David Derbes says:

    This may be old news but it was brand new to me. In the Nobel press release for technical readers, there are a number of references, including a simply wonderful set of conference notes from the legendary GR conference at Chapel Hill in 1957, put together six years ago by the peerless and irreplaceable Cécile Morette DeWitt, UT Austin, and Dean Rickles, U of Sydney. The Nobel folks suggest that this conference was the seed that led to LIGO, particularly Feynman’s terrific thought experiment with beads on a wire, arguing very forcefully that gravitational waves would carry energy and could in principle be measured. Most if not all of the founding fathers and mothers are there: Felix Pirani, Hermann Bondi, Andrej Trautman, André Lichnerowicz, Joe Weber, Wheeler, Feynman, Dicke, Bryce S. DeWitt and so on. A wonderful gathering, sometimes thought of as the Shelter Island of general relativity, wonderfully rendered: http://www.edition-open-sources.org/sources/5.

    I think the Nobel people tried very hard to recognize the many pioneers of this great achievement.

  21. piscator says:

    simplicio:

    I would think the reasons are

    (A) The Nobel Prize committee is historically conservative, and it is not 100% nailed down that dark matter as such exists – there are alternative proposals such as MOND, even if most do not agree with it.

    (B) The history of dark matter is that the evidence with the longest history (velocity dispersions/rotations curves, Zwicky, then Rubin&Ford + some others whose names I forget (in the review by Bertone)) is most vulnerable to the MOND objection, whereas the cosmological arguments for dark matter are later (and so would have less claim to a prize).

    That said, in terms of something having a large observable effect of the universe, my view is that if the Nobel Committee felt that the evidence for dark energy was enough for a Nobel Prize, then they should have awarded one for ‘dark matter’ first (or something that at least behaves like it).

  22. Bernhard says:

    Peter,

    Even in the case of the large LHC collaborations, you can go back and would find a rather small number of people who started it and were authors of the letter of intent of the experiments.

    I’m not sure what it means to “start and experiment”. So many things can and do go wrong while trying to collect the data that it takes several other intelligent people to get that first inspiration/idea into something real.

    It’s not that Thorne at al, didn’t deserve the prize or that some random postdoc should had won, but the fact that the scientific work that mas done, was done by a collaboration and it is this collaboration that did the work that led to the discovery. Irrespective of the fact that Thorne et al, as individuals certainly deserve the prize, so does LIGO. And LIGO did not win any prize. Morally yeas, technically no.

    I’m all for, let’s stop this Nobel nonsense, and focus on the science. But as long as we are going to keep talking about it, which is likely to happen, than we should try to get it right. And the Nobel is not getting it right, for stupid conservative reasons.

  23. william e emba says:

    One thing I don’t like is that they don’t like to give awards for experimental discoveries of significant mysteries until the mystery is explained. Davis had to wait decades for the explanation of the missing solar neutrinos, and Bahcall was unfortunately left out, again.

    They could have awarded Rubin for discovering dark matter, while phrasing it in a way that did not commit the committee to any particular interpretation. That they did not is a disgrace.

    I suspect the reason for not awarding the prize for LIGO last year was simply that no one from LIGO was nominated. I once read somewhere that there was a January deadline, which was why Bednorz and Müller got the award, but not Chu.

    I almost wonder if the joint Virgo observation was rushed into print just to sweeten the committee’s laudatio.

    If I remember correctly, Nobel’s will specifies that most of the prizes are to individuals, at most three at a time, with Peace allowed to go to organizations.

  24. Daniel Mittleman says:

    I’m not at all surprised by the rapidity of the Nobel committee’s response to this discovery. There seems to be little doubt that it’s correct. There also seems to be little dispute that it’s a Big Deal, of the sort that clearly deserves this level of recognition. And the people who most deserve the prize aren’t young (indeed, one already died, as mentioned above). So why wait? I think this was a no-brainer, frankly, and hardly without historical precedent. Not that I’m biased…

    On the other hand, I agree with Doug: it’s somehow quite amusing, in a sad sort of way, that journalists think general relativity is easier to explain than, well, anything.

  25. DrDave says:

    There’s always some second guessing in respect to the Nobel prizes, and there will always be people left out, but certainly these are good choices. The real winners here are scientists who have new avenues of research as well as those who will be inspired to create new and creative experiments to actually test things. Big victory for testability.

  26. MathPhys says:

    Well done, Kip Thorne.

    PS I grew up reading Misner, Thorne and Wheeler.

  27. David Metzler says:

    In Weiss’s remarks at the MIT press conference, he refers multiple times, obliquely, I might even say winkingly, to more news coming on October 16, with reference to neutron stars. Each time got a big laugh from the other LIGO members. So it looks like those rumors are true. Exciting!

  28. A says:

    simplicio, the Nobel prize for Dark Matter will be given when/if DM will be detected non-gravitationally. A posteriori Zwicky would have deserved a Nobel prize for DM. Just like Einstein would have deserved this Nobel prize. For the future, Nobel prizes for inflation and for inflationary perturbations would be more appropriate than prizes for topics that require speed-reading

  29. Robert Owczarek says:

    David Derbes
    To make things straight: Unfortunately, Andrzej Trautman had not participated in the conference, which certainly was great even without his participation.
    With all your respect, although arguments by Feynman were impressive, they were much weaker than what in the next few years did Bondi et al.
    Also, I do not see how the pioneers of the research in gravitational waves were recognized by the Nobel committee if none of them got the award.

    General discussion:
    Of course awarding the discovery, which is really of great importance and will influence the fututre development of astrophysics and physics in general in profound way, as I believe it will, is a very good and expected decision.

  30. Shantanu says:

    David, I agree with Robert So far no theorist (other than Kip) has got a nobel on gravitational waves whereas 4 experimentalists have got it in (1993 and 2017). Once can argue Damour deserves one for his theoretical contribution to both endeavours.

  31. piscator says:

    The nonsense about awarding Nobel prizes to collaborations should be knocked on the head.

    In addition to the many other bad reasons, even the stated positive aim – to recognise that science is a collaborative process – fails badly, by excluding people with very significant contributions to a discovery while making Nobel prize winners of extremely junior people who have done precious little other than become a member of a certain collaboration.

    For the specific case of gravitational waves, a major element to the discovery is the ability to identify the waveforms, which comes from being able to follow numerical relativity all the way until the merged system settles down. But e.g. Pretorius, who transformed this field, is not a part of LIGO – and so would be excluded under this policy.

    For the case of the Higgs, the LHC beam was manifestly key to the discovery – but CERN’s accelerator division is not part of the experimental collaborations such as ATLAS or CMS. Furthermore, an essential part of this discovery again lies in unheralded work on theoretical predictions for QCD and electroweak backgrounds or the development of Monte Carlo generators – all done by those who are generally not part of the collaborations that get to announce discovery.

    So, yes, science is collaborative but yes, some people contribute a lot more than others. The Nobel Prize has kept its reputation over a long period because those involved do a good job of ensuring that those who win have made major contributions.

  32. Peter Erwin says:

    simplicio:

    To repeat and amplify a bit on what piscator, william e emba, and A said: I think there are two strikes against dark matter when it comes to Nobel Prizes.

    1. It’s originally a discovery in astronomy (i.e., the work by Vera Rubin, Albert Bosma, and others), and Nobel Prizes are very rarely awarded for work in astronomy. Consider the fact that there have been no Nobel Prizes for the discovery of extrasolar planets, or the fact that Hubble never got one for discovering the expansion of the universe. I suspect that for many years the argument would have been something like “Well, that’s just something weird about galaxies, that not really physics, is it?”

    2. The Noble committee seems not to like giving out prizes for unsolved mysteries. We still don’t know what dark matter is: Is it (the most popular explanation) an undiscovered nonbaryonic particle? (What kind of particle?) Is it mass in some other form, like primordial black holes? Is it not mass at all, but an indication that our theory of gravity needs to be replaced? Etc. (Any one of those would probably be worth a Nobel, but the committee probably doesn’t want to give out an award for the wrong reason.)

    The missing solar neutrino problem is, I think, a good example. Evidence for this first appeared in the 1960s, and only accumulated in strength and replicability over time. But the actual prize wasn’t awarded (in 2002) until after evidence for the solution in the form of nonzero neutrino mass and neutrino oscillations was obtained.

    (The discovery of pulsars is also a good example, because even though they were initially a complete mystery, the correct solution — rotating, magnetized neutron stars — was worked out very rapidly.)

    The Nobel for discovery of dark energy via supernova measurements is arguably the only modern counterexample (the 1937 award for discovery of cosmic rays is a much earlier one) — except that it does work perfectly well as confirmation of a longstanding theoretical prediction, in the form of the cosmological constant. (It also helped resolve some issues with the age of the universe, which was probably a bonus.)

  33. Bernhard says:

    piscator,

    What you wrote is utter and complete nonsense.

    The only thing preventing the Nobel committee from awarding collaborations is tradition. And it is only this tradition that prevents collaborations from getting a prize. A prize for a collaboration would not make some random person in the collaboration make the claim that they won the Nobel, only that they worked in a Nobel winning experiment, which tells nothing about them.

    About “some people contributed more than others”, please you are stating the obvious, and anyone working in a collaboration knows that. There is however a VERY long way between this statement and the conclusion that because of this plain statement we should just award spokespersons.

    The Nobel committee has actually track-record of doing an awful job because of this tradition of rewarding bosses only, even when large collaborations are not the matter (Cesar Lattes comes to mind). And are you seriously suggesting Takaaki Kajita and not the Super-Kamiokande Collaboration that deserved the Nobel for neutrino oscillations? Oh please!

    LIGO is an entity in itself and there is absolutely nothing absurd in giving the prize to it. To the very least, they could follow the lead from the Breakthrough Prize and mention the collaborators too, even if given more credit to the seniors:
    https://breakthroughprize.org/Laureates/1/P4

  34. piscator says:

    Bernhard,

    >>A prize for a collaboration would not make some random person in the >>collaboration make the claim that they won the Nobel,

    funnily enough, if you look at CVs (enough available online) of LIGO members you will find them listing the Gruber Prize, Breakthrough Prize, etc under their ‘Awards’ sections.

    Of course I am not saying that prizes should only go to spokespersons. Some spokespersons are just good managers. Prizes should go to people who have been transformative. van der Meer won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the W/Z even though he wasn’t in the collaborations, because stochastic cooling was a transformative contribution that was central to the discovery.

    The drive to visualise, initiate and build up a large collaboration focused on a particular topic can be transformative and fully deserving of a Nobel Prize. This isn’t just in academia – to say that Google has X thousand employees doesn’t obscure the centrality of Brin and Page. As I don’t know any of the history of Super-K I’m not going to comment on Kajita and whether this would be an accurate description.

    For the Higgs, what you suggest would exclude people like Lyn Evans and various CERN D-Gs who ensured the LHC happened in the first place, while including graduate students who were in ATLAS/CMS for a couple of years and spent zero time on Higgs searches.

    The Milner prizes are textbook examples of how to do prizes badly, and I am surprised you regard them as a model.

  35. Bernhard says:

    pisctor,

    Yes, I know of people who list the Breakthrough prize in their CVs. Actually, I gave not so long ago feedback to a student that was applying for a job to remove it, because it looked really silly. The fact that young people will want to do that is another thing, and comes out of naivety because they fool nobody worth fooling. It still argues not against awarding a collaboration.

    In case of the the Higgs, what I would argue is that the half of the prize could have been given to ATLAS, CMS and the LHC and the other half split between Higgs and Englert. This would have awarded theory and experiment in a fair way.

    I agree, there is lots of things wrong with the Milner prizes, and I personally think they do more harm than good. BUT, awarding the experimental collaborations is about maybe the only thing that they got right and that they Nobel is incapable of seeing. It has in the end more to do with the seniority and Swedish mentality of the people who control the prize than anything tangible concerning a transformative contribution to an experiment.

  36. Fred P says:

    @Bernhard- “The only thing preventing the Nobel committee from awarding collaborations is tradition.”

    Statue 4 of the Nobel foundation appears to preclude collaborations.

    The Nobel foundation statue 4:
    Ҥ 4.
    A prize amount may be equally divided between two works, each of which is considered to merit a prize. 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: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_organizations/nobelfoundation/statutes.html#par7

    As a note, it looks like this could be changed – see Statute 22.

  37. Bernhard says:

    Fred P,

    this rule can be bent simply by considering the collaboration as a single entity, like is is done for the piece prize (e.g. awarding the UN). It’s not a stretch of the imagination.

  38. william e emba says:

    I’ve looked some things up.

    Nobel’s will specifies one person per prize for up to “two works”. The first Peace prize was to two people. There were multiple winners for several early Physics prizes, and there was an early institutional Peace prize. Literature, for some reason, has only given a joint award twice. The Nobel Foundation gives each prize-awarding group the authority to award organizations. I would guess that there were no organizations in non-Peace categories worth thinking about for decades, and the awards have achieved a certain reputation they don’t want to tinker with.

    Originally nominations were restricted to the living, and awards could be given to someone who died afterwards. This happened twice. The Foundation changed this in 1974. The Steinman family deliberately did not announce his death at first; I don’t recall anything about the Academy inquiring if he was alive. (The only inquiry I have heard of was whether Nash could cope with the unusual attention he would be subject to.) It’s believed that there was no 1948 Peace prize because Gandhi was assassinated January 30 that year. Had he been killed two days later, he would have been eligible.

  39. aaaaaaaaa says:

    Fred P,

    The fourth statute also says:
    “Each prize-awarding body shall be competent to decide whether the prize it is entitled to award may be conferred upon an institution or association.”

    It seems to me that this explicitly says that, for example, LIGO as a whole could be eligible for the prize.

  40. AcademicLurker says:

    This discussion might be past its sell-by date, but I guess I’ll jump in anyway.

    I’m skeptical of complaints, like the one in the linked Atlantic piece, the the Nobel prize “distorts how science is done”. Very few people work on the things they do because they expect to get a Nobel prize for it. One of the cryo-EM winners announced this morning won for the years he spent figuring out how to get water to form a glass instead of crystals during the freezing process that’s part of sample preparation. I doubt he was thinking “Stockholm, here I come!” during that work.

    As Ed Yong notes, none of the issues with the Nobel would matter if the prize weren’t such a big deal. I’m betting, and I could be wrong, the the “big deal”-ness of the Nobel would start to diminish if it were awarded to institutions instead of individuals. Which would be too bad. One guaranteed high profile week for science per year isn’t all that much as it is.

    Football and baseball are also collective enterprises, but MVP awards and the Heisman trophy don’t seem to generate quite so many complaints.

  41. David Derbes says:

    @Robert Owczarek:

    Thank you for the correction re: Trautman. I clearly didn’t read the conference proceedings carefully enough. With respect to the Nobel Committee recognizing the pioneers, I did not mean to suggest that all who might have deserved a part of the prize had gotten it. The rule of three prevents that. I was trying to say that in their press releases, they seemed to me to have tried hard not to slight anyone. That’s a good thing. With respect to Feynman’s argument, I am not saying that it turned the tide; I don’t know enough about the history of gravitational radiation research. But that’s my impression of what the Nobel press release said.

    @Shantanu:

    It’s true that experiment has been rewarded four times to theory’s once, if you count Hulse-Taylor (appropriately). But on the whole the Nobel folks seem to me to favor experiment over theory in general, and I don’t fault them for that, notwithstanding my own theoretical upbringing. I think Thorne was actually a little sorry that the entire LIGO team didn’t get the prize. I remember in the weeks before Englert-Higgs, someone asked the Nobel Physics folks if they felt the ATLAS-CMS teams were disqualified. I believe the answer was no, that in principle a team with N >> 3 could win it (as has happened repeatedly with the Peace Prize: Doctors Without Borders, the Irish Mothers, and so on). It’s a shame that ATLAS-CMS didn’t also win for the Higgs discovery, and a shame that other theorists besides Thorne haven’t also won for gravitational radiation, but there are always losers in these prizes. Specifically, Robert Brout and Ron Drever lost out because of death. That really stinks, in my opinion, though I am glad Barry Barish won (as predicted skillfully by Peter W.).

  42. Paul says:

    Weiss alluded to a new announcement on Oct. 16. See 8:40 in this video, and also around 16:40:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJMOzmwYT8A

  43. Shantanu says:

    Peter, since no one has mentioned this, I should point out that cancellation of SSC proved to be a blessing in disguise for LIGO as many people (starting from/inspired by Barry) shifted to LIGO
    after their phd/postdocs in experimental HEP.
    This is despite that the fact that LIGO project involves completely classical GR and astrophysics (a topic which I doubt many HEP experimentalists knew much about in grad school). Even the nuts and blots issues needed for working on LIGO such as control theory, digital signal processing, time-domain digital filtering is never taught in Physics grad school and is completely decoupled from HEP (which deals with discrete triggers or events).

  44. Laurence B Lurio says:

    On the subject of being able to explain last years Nobel prize on topological physics, there was an article in December 2016 Physics today by Sung Chang which put this obscure condensed matter theory into context and really did a good job of explaining why it deserved a Nobel. Of course, this still isn’t an explanation at the popular science level which journalists might like, but perhaps more articles like this might have made Feynman change his mind about canceling his subscription.

  45. cedric bardot says:

    A nice way to celebrate the end of the Noble prize annoucement season and “Fête de la science 2017” … Go to Baton Rouge, Lousiana on October 16th?

    Upcoming conference :
    IAU symposium on Gravitational Wave Astrophysics: Early Results from GW Searches and Electromagnetic Counterpart, 16 – 19 oct. 2017 at Baton Rouge, Lousiana

    Rainer Weiss said at a press conference at MIT on October the 3rd :
    “…We opened a new field in astronomy and astrophysics… Einstein’s waves are interesting and the fact that you can directly detect them is important but the real pay-off is gonna be in the future… it’s already happened the pay off in some regards and more of will happen on october 16th I won’t tell where it is but I can tell you there is more there… We’ve seen balck holes which is already wonderful but we also expect to see the merger o neutron stars and that was the thingthat that gave the field a certain credibility when it was discovered that there are pairs of neutron stars in our galaxy and people stopped laughing at us when that was found out … now the big question is how often does it happen that two neutron stars are smashing each other well … I won’t say anymore all this is reserved and the thing is that from that people will learn if we have done it right we’ll learn much more than just from gravity … you’ll learn a lot about nuclear physics a lot of facts about equation of state of nuclear physics… how stiff is nuclear matter, you’ll also learn probably how heavy elements are made, all of this is reserved for the future…”

  46. Michael John Sarnowski says:

    An honorable mention should go to Professor of physics, Jolien Creighton, from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who has been working on LIGO many years. Very smart man.

  47. Paul says:

    Quote from Robert Byer at a photonics conference not long ago. Interesting detail about the LIGO laser systems, but also:

    ‘And Byer hinted that the coming month may see still more impressive results in the quest for gravitational waves and “multimessenger astronomy.” Specifically, Byer offered a quick teaser of an upcoming news conference that the LIGO team will hold on 16 October to announce a new result. While Byer couldn’t reveal the content, what he did say suggested that his particular presser will be a don’t-miss event. “I’m willing to admit,” Byer said, concluding his talk, “that what they will announce will be one of the most important events in the history of astrophysics.”’

  48. Yatima says:

    “that what they will announce will be one of the most important events in the history of astrophysics.”

    Well, the last 20 years have been quite exciting already. I hope they won’t be announcing that we are at the business end of an upcoming in-galaxy gamma-ray burster.

  49. Kyle MacDonald says:

    Was it just Wolchover’s tweet that provoked that rant from Orzel? How could anyone within earshot of the popular science press not recognize that she’s been writing about LIGO essentially every few weeks for the last several years and is glad to have a topic she can write about competently in a hurry?

Comments are closed.