By Tushna Commissariat and Hamish Johnston
Update: Looks like we were quite spectacularly wrong this time around with our predictions as this year’s Nobel has been awarded to Arthur McDonald and Takaaki Kajita “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”. While Physics World’s news editor Michael Banks did predict this in 2013, we did not think this would be the year. Clearly, as our “Which physics disciplines attract the most Nobel prizes” infographic suggests, the field of particle physics still seems to be the most Nobel-worthy one.
It’s a mug’s game, we know, but come the start of October we just can’t resist trying to predict who will win the Nobel Prize for Physics, which this year will be announced on Tuesday 6 October.
With the exception of 2013 – when most pundits were right in thinking that the prize would be related to the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson – predicting the next Nobel winners (or winners) is a tough call. If you want to take an analytical approach, check out the infographic we published last year: “Which physics disciplines attract the most Nobel prizes”. It suggests that the field of atomic, molecular and optical physics is due a prize, and one of us (Hamish Johnston) thinks an excellent bet is Deborah Jin for her work on fermionic condensates. If Jin were to win, she would be only the third woman ever to win a physics Nobel – the other two being Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963.
Another ongoing prediction (three years and counting) shared by Physics World editor Matin Durrani and reviews editor Margaret Harris is that the award will go to Alain Aspect, Anton Zeilinger and John Clauser for their Bell’s inequality experiments, which established quantum entanglement. The trio has already bagged the Wolf Prize for this work, which is a good predictor of Nobel success. There is more about these experiments in this Physics World article co-written by Zeilinger: “A quantum renaissance”.
One of the most important discoveries in astronomy over the past few decades is that the Milky Way is chock-full of exoplanets – planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. One of us (Tushna Commissariat) is predicting an exoplanet-related prize, as is Physics World multimedia editor James Dacey. However, who would get the prize for exoplanets would be a tricky decision for the Nobel committee. While undoubtedly worthy research, there is a bit of controversy over who actually made the first confirmed observation of an exoplanet. Possible winners include Aleksander Wolszczan, Dale Frail, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz.
Other physicists who could soon be buying tickets to Stockholm include Yakir Aharonov and Michael Berry for their work on the Aharonov–Bohm effect and the Berry phase (David Bohm died in 1992 and the prize is not given posthumously). The pair shared the Wolf Prize back in 1998, which, as we mentioned before, is a good sign. Also on our list are John Pendry, David Smith and Ulf Leonhardt for their prediction and discovery of negative refraction.
In case you missed it, yesterday we unveiled two new infographics that chart the migration of physicists with Nobel prizes. Creating the infographics involved taking a close look at the lives of all 198 physics Nobel laureates, which was a fascinating exercise. In particular, the infographics cast light on the effect of the Second World War on the global physics community. As well as the Jewish physicists who fled Europe, others caught up in the chaos include a young Peter Grünberg, who was born to German-speaking parents in the Czechoslovakian city of Plzen in 1939. The family was interned after the war and Grünberg’s father died in the camp before his family joined the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans who were expelled from the country. Despite this tough start in life, Grünberg went on to share the 2007 physics Nobel prize for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance.
Of course, many physicists travel the world to pursue their research, and Neil Turok is no exception. Born in South Africa, Turok trained as a theoretical physicist in the UK before taking several positions in the US and ending up as a professor at Princeton University. Then it was back to the UK, where he was Chair of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Turok now directs the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, where on 7 October he will be giving a public lecture on the “The astonishing simplicity of everything”. Like all events at Perimeter it will be streamed live, and Turok may have something to say about this year’s Nobel prize. You can watch the preview of the lecture in the above video.