Nobel Prizes 2013: An award for the Higgs Boson theorists, but not for the people who found it




Robert Brout was also a major player in developing the theory of "how particles acquire mass", but he died in 2011. That's worth its own story.

At a talk @ Stockholm University earlier this afternoon, the selection committee chair, Lars Brink, was asked about the issue of credit to CERN for their role in the experimental verification of the Higgs particle. He drew the audience's attention to the citation ... "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism..."

To me, the words of the citation seem to have been very carefully chosen. There was evident enthusiasm regarding the CERN results, and for the potential for new results as they move to higher energy. I saw no evidence (other than the target of the award, to theory) to conclude that there was an apprehension of bias towards theory over experiment. But this is my opinion, based on one observation (n=1).

Conflict disclosure: I am an experimental chemist.


Why could they not split it? (Don't tell me about rules, we know they can and have been broken)


The decision is clear: Higgs and Englert never used Comic Sans.


I thought the reaction was mostly backlash because traditionally the Nobel Prize emphasized the experimental side of things and this time they went against expectations.


This makes sense to me. It doesn't seem like the experimenters were doing anything really groundbreaking. I mean of course The LHC is a mindblowingly large and complex device and the designers definitely deserve credit. But unless I'm mistaken the experimenters themselves were just methodically following a set of instructions until they found the particle.


...the prize is distorting the way physics is done. It is prestigious and, in one sense, it contributes a lot to the image of physics among the public, especially among kids and students, the future scientists. And it conveys a biased message, which is the following: Be a theoretician, develop a mathematical picture of our universe and let less capable physicists check the validity of your sacred work.

Every now and then a scientist stumbles out of the doors of their lab and, blinking furiously in the sunlight, cries out, "But, but, it's almost as if science is the same as every other human endeavor!"

Meanwhile, engineers are entirely comfortable with the fact that 90% of their peers were inspired to their career by a Canadian actor playing a Scot.


Maggie, you have a really great science blog. Please don't write "proving a theory".


Agree the recipient restriction on the prize is more the problem; and along those lines perhaps some re-consideration of prizes/awards in general is in order.


It would seem to me far, far too early, especially by Nobel standards, to give a prize for experimental work on the Higgs this year.


If by "methodically following a set of instructions" you mean "designing and getting to work what is literally the greatest and most complex technological achievement of the human species to date," then sure.


"designing and getting to work what is literally the greatest and most complex technological achievement of the human species to date," Was the engineers, architects, and builders not the experimenters.


I strongly suspect that 5 or 10 years from now there will be another Nobel Prize in Physics for the experimental discovery of the Higgs Boson. The fact that theorists got this year's prize doesn't mean that the experimentalists who discovered it (or, really, the team leaders) are out of the running forever more.


Um, no. I know a number of physicists who work on it, and the system, especially the detectors, was largely designed and troubleshot by research physicists. (I admit that they didn't actually physically do most of the large scale construction work.) The stuff they're doing requires a much better understanding of the physics involved than you would typically find in someone who's training was as an engineer. Doing stuff like that, at the cutting edge, is a lot of what goes into being an experimental physicist, and them not getting credit is what this article is about.


I didn't mean to say they were engineers by trade, but they (physicists) did engineer the device. The act of actually finding the particle is great. But whoever designed and implemented the system deserves as much credit if not more than the group of people who found the particle.


What I'm saying is that a lot of them are the same people.


I see. Respect.


What a load of bullshit, these days they hand out Nobel prizes to anyone and everyone like it's goddamned Halloween candy. (Remember who won in 2009? So of course the MSM is all over this.) My dog could earn a Nobel prize and I don't even have a damn dog.

This post is presented for the benefit of those who do not have relatives that use Facebook.


In my experience no one is telling physics majors to become purely theorists because doing just theory makes it difficult to get any funding. Does the general public really think that physics is done once you come up with a theory?


Based on some of the comments here, which is probably a more educated crowd than the general public, I think the answer to that is yes.