The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics .. goes to Englert and Higgs

Well, there we are. After an excruciating (and unexplained) delay the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics has gone to François Englert and Peter Higgs. You can find the full press release here; the first section of text reads:

François Englert and Peter W. Higgs are jointly  awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the  theory of how particles acquire mass. In 1964, they  proposed the theory independently of each other  (Englert together with his now deceased colleague  Robert Brout). In 2012, their ideas were confirmed  by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the  CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland. The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard  Model of particle  hysics that describes how the world is  constructed. According to the Standard Model, every­thing, from flowers and people to stars and planets,  consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles.  These particles are governed by forces mediated by force  particles that make sure everything works as it should. The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence  of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This  particle originates from an invisible field that fills up  all space. Even when the universe seems empty this  field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because  it is from contact with the field that particles acquire  mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs  describes this process.

Anyway, congratulations to the two Laureates. I did get a bit excited when the rumour started that the winner this year would be someone born in Newcastle upon Tyne whose first name is Peter, but I guess I’ll have to wait until next year..

Oh, and François Englert is the first ever Belgian winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics!

I have to head off to London for a Parliamentary Reception organized by the Science & Technology Facilities Council, so I’ll have to leave it there but please feel free to add reactions to the announcement via the Comments Box.

P.S. Yesterday’s poll is now closed.

19 Responses to “The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics .. goes to Englert and Higgs”

  1. telescoper Says:

    Apparently Peter Higgs has gone on holiday and didn’t take a phone with him. He’s now officially a national treasure.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      So he still doesn’t know?

      • telescoper Says:

        News on Twitter says he’s just now been contacted

        I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy. I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support. I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.

        Source: University of Edinburgh.

        Meanwhile asked for an explanation of the delay, a member of the Committee explains “we had a very good discussion..”

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Pretty cool time to go on holiday!

  2. Ian Douglas Says:

    You’ll get yours when you invent Coles fusion.

    I am very very sorry.

  3. Dave Carter Says:

    Just a little disappointed with the very last sentence of that text, although he is deceased and could not share the prize, Brout should have been included there. I know he appears above, but even so.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Prigogine was a naturalised Belgian who there did the work for which he won a Nobel Prize in (physical) chemistry. (Not that I agree with it!)

  5. telescoper Says:

    There was such a long wait they should rename the Higgs the “Godot Particle”

  6. “Oh, and François Englert is the first ever Belgian winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics!”

    In retrospect, I think Lemaitre should have won, but a) it took a while before astronomers started getting physics prizes and b) he was long dead before it turned out that his cosmological model is probably the correct one.

    Simon Rattle, when conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, introduces encores by Händel as “a piece by a famous English composer”. 🙂

    Who claims Higgs? England? Scotland?

    Some German media reported that a German had won a share of the physiology prize, but many commentators were quick to point out that he left Germany 30 years ago.

    Einstein summed it up well: If my theory is correct, Germany will say I’m a German and France will say I’m a citizen of the world. If my theory is wrong, Germany will say I’m a Jew and France will say I’m a German. 😐 (Einstein’s citizenship was quite complex. He was born in what is now Germany, but there was no Germany then, so he was properly speaking a Württemberg citizen. He became a naturalized Swiss citizen, IIRC giving up all other citizenship. When he became a professor in Prague, he automatically got Austro-Hungarian citizenship. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize, when he was working in Berlin, there was debate over which country should congratulate, Germany or Switzerland, since he was a Swiss citizen working in Germany. Some official claimed that Einstein was a German citizen, though this was unclear, though some argue that by accepting the position in Berlin he had automatically become a citizen. He later became a naturalized US citizen, but kept his Swiss citizenship.)

  7. With the limit of 3, there will always be situations where this isn’t appropriate, but one has to draw the line somewhere, and giving it just to some rather than all of a group would be worse than giving it to none. If there is no limit, then collaborations will become eligible, and we will have hundreds or thousands of winners walking about, diluting the value of the prize. (It is not linear. If you are one of three, that’s almost as good—in terms of fame, if not money, but then winners don’t have to worry about money anyway—but if you are one of 100, then your perceived fame is probably less than 1 per cent.) Opening it to collaborations would tempt some to give it to everyone in the collaboration, even if those at the bottom of the food chain could have been replaced with others with no difference in the outcome. (No disrespect intended, but the prize is not awarded for showing up for work.)

    • OTOH there is no way you could only pick 3 from a collaboration I think – e.g. in ATLAS certainly a lot more than 3 people made crucial contributions to the experimental result, despite there being also a lot who perhaps contributed not an awful lot.

      • Yes, I agree. The situation is not ideal, but might be the best possible.

        Note that the Peace Prize can be (and has been) awarded to organizations.

      • Dave Carter Says:

        There will have been a large number of people in the UK alone who made crucial contributions to ATLAS and CMS results, as the REF panel will find when they read their text boxes.

    • Note that the Nobel Foundation has “adapted” Nobel’s will. For example, the original stipulation was that the prize be awarded for work done during the previous year. I think it was good that that was changed (and also good that posthumous awards still aren’t allowed). He also originally specified one person per prize. In his day, collaborations were rare, so I agree with this change. (Yes, these days huge collaborations exist, but the question of dilution has to be considered as well.)

      Here’s a translation of the relevant text:

      The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical work by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.

      Swedish has a common-gender pronoun (in addition to male and female pronouns) and this was used in the will, rather than “person”. Thus, I don’t know to what extent we can praise Nobel for not specifying that the prizes were only for men. Can we criticize Feynman, though, for, in the 1960s, funding prizes for “the first guy to…”? (Note: Feynman’s sister was also a physicist.)

      Note that Nobel tended to specify everything he thought necessary. He concluded with: Finally, it is my express wish that following my death my veins shall be opened, and when this has been done and competent Doctors have confirmed clear signs of death, my remains shall be cremated in a so-called crematorium.

      Note: The above is the translation from the Nobel site. However, I think it should say “arteries” instead of “veins”.

  8. […] The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics .. goes to Englert and Higgs ( […]

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