No, they haven’t announced the Nobel prizes yet this year. The announcement of the physics prize is scheduled for mid-day (Stockholm time) next Tuesday. I have zero inside information about who is likely to get the prize this year, but in particle theory there is one obvious choice: Gross, Wilczek and Politzer for asymptotic freedom.
The discovery of the asymptotic freedom of Yang-Mills theory led very quickly to the realization that QCD was the right theory of the strong interactions, and this was what really completed the Standard Model. It is one of the most important discoveries of 20th century science. The calculation of the Yang-Mills beta function was completed about the same time by David Politzer (a student of Sidney Coleman’s at Harvard) and David Gross working with his student Frank Wilczek at Princeton. Gross was actually trying to complete a proof that all QFTs had bad ultraviolet behavior; he still was suffering from the pre-QCD prejudice that the strong interactions could never be understood via QFT, that one needed instead to do S-matrix theory or string theory or something other than QFT.
I’ve always been surprised that a Nobel hasn’t yet been awarded for this discovery. The only reasons I can think of are political ones:
1. Evidently ‘t Hooft had done the beta function calculation earlier, but hadn’t realized how significant it was or written it up. He certainly didn’t work out the experimental implications for deep inelastic scattering, which was what Gross, Politzer and Wilczek did. Unlike ‘t Hooft, they immediately realized the significance of the result. So the Nobel committee might have felt it that it would be unfair not to make an award to ‘t Hooft. But ‘t Hooft did receive the prize a few years back for his work on renormalization of Yang-Mills theory, so this reason should no longer hold.
2. David Politzer was made a tenured professor at Caltech at a very early point in his career, but hasn’t done much since then. Some people might not be so happy about awarding him the prize.
3. There certainly are some people in the particle physics community who weren’t personally fans of David Gross. I remember many years ago a lunch with one European physicist who claimed to be involved in the Nobel decision process, at which he vividly claimed that “David Gross will get a Nobel prize over my dead body!”. He’s dead now, so at least he’s no longer an obstruction.
Anyway, Gross-Politzer-Wilczek is my bet for next Tuesday.
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