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Who will get a Nobel if the Higgs is discovered?

By Jon Cartwright

Awarding Nobel prizes, as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) proved earlier this month, is no easy business. Sometimes the the prize-worthy research is the responsibility of one or two inspirational scientists. But, as is more and more often the case, the research is a joint effort among many.

Take the Higgs boson, predicted by Peter Higgs in 1963 and now the one of the most sought after particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN lab near Geneva. If the LHC does detect a Higgs boson, who deserves a Nobel? Just Higgs himself? Perhaps also the LHC project leader, Lyn Evans? Or maybe the entire LHC crew?

I’m guessing many of you will have assumed that the physics committee are unable to award all or part of a Nobel prize to a collaboration like the LHC. But take a close look at the statutes on the Nobel web page — which were written down almost a century ago — and you might find something that surprises you:

bq. 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.

That’s right — the RSAS (for physics and chemistry), the Karolinska Institute (for physiology or medicine), the Swedish Academy (for literature) and the Norwegian committee (for peace) can each chose if they want to start awarding to institutions or associations. Clearly the Norwegian committee has already done that several times, for example when it recognized both Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change in 2007. But Anders Barany, a senior advisor at the Nobel museum, tells me that, of the other three, the RSAS and Swedish Academy have not made up their minds up either way.

Barany wrote me in an e-mail: “If Ladbrookes had a betting on whether the RSAS will give the prize to ‘an institution or a society’ like the LHC (and others), I would bet a considerable sum on it…Physics has changed so much since the RSAS discussed this issue in year 1900 that it would really be a limitation on the prize if it continued to be given only to individuals.”

What do you think? Should the LHC collaboration itself get a prize if finds anything important?

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  1. Ender

    That’s a good point. The Peace Nobel Prize has also been awarded to the International Red Cross and the IAEA.
    On the other hand, in large accelerators such as the LHC at CERN, there are several “collaborations,” which conduct different experiments. If the Higgs is found, I guess it could go to that “collaboration group” which happens to discover it. In this case it’s probably not so much the accelerator which matters, but the design of the detection techniques and the analysis of the data. This, of course, doesn’t mean that accelerator designers who come up with novel and a innovative accelerating techniques don’t deserve the Nobel. I’m not sure this is the case of the LHC design, though. I’d like to read a rebutal to this.

  2. Patrick Orlando

    it should go to a person only.

  3. Martin

    Interesting, and it sounds like it would be a good move to start awarding to institutions. I’d imagine it would be the experimental collaboration that discovered the Higgs (probably ATLAS or CMS) that won the prize, rather than the LHC as a whole though.

  4. coarna

    Higgs bosons couldn’t be detected in a collision process because they are unstable: being formed by quantic dipoles with 1E19 Hz frequency, in order to be stable they must contain a greater number of dipoles than it result after splitting of atoms. The only results will be, again, elementary particles…See ‘SUBPHYSICS’.

  5. b s chandrasekhar

    Here we go again, this obsession with prizes, Nobel or ignoble. When will we physicists think more about the joy and beauty of the subject and not about million dollar prizes?

  6. Phil

    The way high-energy physics is going, we’ll end up with the prize going to the entire world.
    I also agree with Chandrasekhar: physicists (or any other researchers for that matter) are not film or soccer stars and they don’t go into research for such mundane reasons either.
    This all sounds too much like a gossip column.

  7. Habib

    Nobel prize should be awarded to a person who discovers or makes an original idea and not for a technology ….

  8. jim

    b s chandrasekhar,
    We’ll think only of the joy when we stop needing the money!

  9. The Higgs particle is undetectable so the discussion is pointless. The assumption has always been when dissected to a defined state; matter would separate into precise and constant identities resulting in the evasive Higgs. Energy and particles create mass energy which we can detect so which is the Higgs particle, the energy the particle contains or the separate states, energy or the particle, both exist without the other. E (p + p) = (EM) 2 This can be proven without all the expense.

  10. Jar_mes

    I think Andrew and Patrick are both right.
    Since the 70s, philosophers and sociologists of science have recognised that the neat + tidy “products” of scientific research, emerge from a complex mesh of “technoscience”. That is, individuals, teams, institutions, and the technologies themselves, all help shape the scientific “facts” of the day.
    That said, we still need idols to inspire the next generation of physicists. And I reckon it still takes a spark of human genius to get the cogs turning in the first place.
    So give it to Higgs.

  11. As far as I know, the Nobel Prize is offered for works that have ‘practical’ implications. Einstein got it for photoelectric effect (not Theory of Relativity) and despite being a scientist par excellence, Stephen Hawking has none.

  12. Dr. Cern

    There should be two awards AFTER it is found and confirmed. One prize to the remaining theorists – Higgs(H), Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble (GHK) or even Brout-Englert (BE). Since they can be groups maybe each team should get one. Since it needs to wait until it is found maybe all will not be here but that is how science works.
    Then it should go the experimentalists a few years later after the facts and stories are confirmed.

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