Monday, July 9, 2012

LftW: 9th July

Physics links:
  • Update: Another link worth highlighting this week is a background piece on the Higgs by Steven Weinberg from the New York Review of Books, taken from the introduction to a book due to be published next month. As ever, Weinberg is clear, precise and interesting.
  • Perhaps inevitably given the momentous nature of the results announced at CERN last week, there has been much discussion about who should be awarded the Nobel Prize for (a) the discovery of the Higgs and (b) the theoretical prediction of the Higgs around 50 years ago. Of course, the existence and future discovery of the Higgs was regarded as so certain that (b) has already been a topic of much debate for several years. For those who have not already read it, Frank Close's book The Infinity Puzzle provides an excellent summary, and (somewhat surprisingly) Mark Thoma's economics blog quotes some of the relevant sections. Summarised in a sentence, the problem is that six theorists including Peter Higgs can claim to have predicted the mechanism by which the Higgs boson gives mass to elementary particles, but the Nobel can only be awarded to three at most, leaving a complex decision for the committee to make. Close has recently been reiterating his recommendations and urging haste, since Nobels cannot be awarded posthumously. Already only five of the six survive.
  • The problem of who should get the prize for (a) is perhaps even more difficult. Although it is hard to imagine anything more Nobel-worthy than the discovery of a new elementary particle, Nobel Prizes can only be awarded to individuals, not collaborations, and most commentators seem to agree that it would be hard to single out any especially deserving individuals from the excellent team efforts of ATLAS or CMS. (This has been done before, for instance when John Mather and George Smoot got the 2006 Prize for their roles in COBE, but the choice now is less clear-cut.) Peter Woit wants the rules to be changed so the prize can be awarded to both complete groups and also CERN engineers, which I suspect is unlikely to happen. He would also like the award to be made this October, which is probably also unlikely, given that the detailed papers on the discovery will not even be submitted to a journal until the end of this month. (And I would guess it is even more unlikely for a theory prize to be awarded in October as Frank Close wants, since strictly speaking it isn't yet proven that the discovered particle is the Standard Model Higgs boson. But of course mine is a relatively uninformed opinion!) 
Other links:

1 comment:

  1. If ATLAS and CMS get the nobel prize we'd get $100 each. Would be surprised if they decide to award the prize to collaborations though. And as you and others say there aren't really any standout leaders of the collaborations like there were with Rubbia and Van der Meer for the W/Z discovery.