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Blog

Should the convention for awarding the Nobel Prize for Physics be changed so that it can be given to a large collaboration?

By Hamish Johnston
Facebook poll

Four years ago Physics World‘s Jon Cartwright asked “Who will get a Nobel if the Higgs is discovered?” – and pointed out that under the current convention, the Nobel Prize for Physics is awarded to a maximum of three people.

Back then, this was a purely hypothetical question. But now the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) will have to decide what to do about recognizing the discovery of a particle that some say was predicted by more than three people – and discovered by thousands working on the LHC.

In his piece four years ago, Jon pointed out that the RSAS could, in principle, choose to award the prize to an institution or collaboration – it just hasn’t done so since the first prize was announced in 1900.

Could a Higgs Nobel be the first awarded to a large group? Back in 2008 Jon spoke to the physicist Anders Bárány, who is senior curator at the Nobel Museum and was secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physics for 14 years, and he said he was willing to put money on it.

“If Ladbrokes was taking bets on whether the RSAS will give the prize to ‘an institution or a society’ such as the LHC, I would bet a considerable sum on it…Physics has changed so much since the RSAS discussed this issue in 1900 that it would really be a limitation on the prize if it continued to be given only to individuals.”

This week’s Facebook poll is inspired by Bárány’s wager:

Should the convention for awarding the Nobel Prize for Physics be changed so that it can be given to a large collaboration?

Yes
No

Have your say by visiting our Facebook page, and please feel free to explain your response by posting a comment below the poll.

Last week we asked “Which scientific issue should be of greatest importance to politicians?” The most popular response was “science education” with nearly 40% of the vote. The runner-up was “science’s role in economic growth” with about 23% and “climate change and energy security” at 16%. The least popular of the six options was “space exploration” with only 3% of the vote.

Philip Gibbs was one who didn’t vote for education and he explained why: “Scientists are very mobile so if you support education but not research you will just educate people who go abroad. On the other hand, if you support research you will have experts coming here to form good science departments.”

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