Now That the Higgs Has Been Found, Who Will Win the Nobel Prize?

Let's face it, the biggest and most important physics discovery in the past 30 years is old news. So let's move on to the next sexiest physics mystery, who exactly is going get science's biggest prize for the Higgs boson discovery?

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Let's face it, the biggest and most important physics discovery in the past 30 years is old news. So let's move on to the next sexiest physics mystery, who exactly is going get science's biggest prize for the Higgs boson discovery? The answer isn't as obvious — the scientists who've spent the last 13 years working underground at the CERN Large Hadron Collider — as you might things. Even though the committee that awards the Nobel Prize for Physics is known to wait years or decades to recognize major discoveries, this year's, which will be announced in Oslo on October 9, is almost certainly going to the Higgs boson. But just whose names will be announced is an open question because of two Nobel rules:

  • The Prize cannot go to more than three people
  • The Prize cannot be awarded posthumously 

The world of physics bloggers full of speculation on which three physicists will make the cut and this is how they see the field shaping up. Ready, set, go:

The Certain Lock

Peter Higgs

Who Is He? The Higgs of the Higgs boson!

Pros: If you're going to reward people for discovering the Higgs boson, you can't leave off Higgs.

Cons: None. Some people are even throwing a knighthood out there.

Odds: Lock.

The Almost Certain Lock

Francois Englert

Who Is He? Well, even though Higgs boson gets all the credit, Englert and fellow physicist Robert Brout were the first of three sets of scientists to publish on the theory of particle masses in 1964. Higgs actually published after Englert and Brout, but he was the first to mention that the theory needed a new particle, the Higgs boson, which explains why it isn't called the Englert-Brout boson.

Pros: Being the first helps. His co-author Brout died in 2011 and the Nobel Prize can't be awarded posthumously.

Cons: None. Everyone from The Guardian to physics bloggers believe Englert is a lock.

Odds: Lock

So that leaves just one more spot...

The Locked Trio

Dick Hagen; Gerry Guralnik;  Tom Kibble

Who Are They? This team, made up of two U.S. scientists (Hagen and Guralnik) and a British physicist, were the last to publish in November 1964.  And this is where it gets messy. You see in 2010, organizers of the Higgs Hunting conference in Paris only recognized Brout, Englert and Higgs which ignited a controversy from Hagen's, Guralnik's and Kibble's supporters who believe that even though they were the last to publish, their independent account came out just as the previous papers were finding their way into print, and that theirs was just as valid as Brout, Englert, and Higgs. In 2010, when the American Physical Society awarded the J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics (sort of the Golden Globes to Nobel's Oscar) to all six. (L-R, Kibble, Guralnik, Hagen)

Pros: They have support — there wouldn't be a controversy if they didn't. Also there's the underdog factor, as there's a narrative that Geralnik and Hagen maintain that European physicists are trying to write them out of history, reports The Guardian.

Cons: Essentially, these three are competing for one spot, so it means making case for which one contributed more to the discovery than the other two.

Odds: Kibble got special mention by physicist/blogger Philip Gibbs and was tapped by Oxford University professor Frank Close as his pick. He seems to have the inside track. Here's Close's take on why Kibble stands out:

In 1967, Kibble used the pieces of intellectual lego that he had earlier constructed with his collaborators, Guralnik and Hagen, to build the empirical model whose truth is now being revealed. He showed how the photon of the electromagnetic force stays massless, while other bosons (now realized to be the W and Z, carriers of the weak force) gain mass. Kibble’s work also inspired Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam to incorporate his ideas in the works that led to their Nobel awards in 1979. Also, as one of the Guralnik, Hagen, and Kibble team — which was so narrowly beaten to the tape in 1964 — Kibble is also special in having been involved throughout the entire construction.

The Long Shot

Lyn Evans

Who Is He? The man who built the Large Hadron Collider.

Pros: He built the LHC.

Cons: Although Evans built the LHC, he didn't really do much in terms of discovering the Higgs boson. "He didn’t play a central role in the actual experimental effort to find the Higgs, but there’s no person who deserves more credit for enabling the conditions under which it could be found," writes Sean Carroll at Discovery magazine. While Close believes Evans might be more fit to snag an engineering award.

Odds: Not great. If your biggest supporter says you didn't play a central role, you probably will have a hard time convincing the Nobel committee. On the bright side, he will get plenty of recognition for LHC for years to come.

The Darkhorses

Philip Anderson (pictured); Jeffrey Goldstone

Who Are They? These two did not work together, but they're often paired and thrown around in the same discussion as "The Big Three" theorists.  "Another strong contender is Philip Anderson who took an influential step towards the discovery with a non-relativistic model inspired by condensed matter theories," writes Gibbs. Our favorite rumor-breaking physics blogger, Peter Woit, has a detailed summary of Anderson's oft-ignored findings which predate the works of Englert/Brout/Higgs/Guralnik/Hagen/Kibble. As for Goldstone, he's actually Gibbs's dream pick. "Goldstone is added for realizing the importance of the Mexican hat potential and its consequences as well as the understanding he provided for the strong force," he wrote in May, adding that Goldstone's "theoretical work on symmetry breaking that paved the way for the discovery has been overlooked by the Nobel committee."

Pros: These guys aren't the Big Three and that might actually work in their favor. As blogger Carson C. Chow explains, "One could even argue further that the Higgs boson is really just a variant of the Goldstone boson, discovered by Yoichiro Nambu (Nobel Laureate) and Jeffrey Goldstone (not a Laureate). And there's Anderson's body of work, and the sexy idea of vindicating someone whose work predates the Big Three.

Cons: Well, they aren't the original theorists. And for what it's worth, Anderson is already a laureate.

Odds: One of these two may be an easier pick if the committee can't settle on which of the Big Three to honor. If that's the case, Goldstone might stand a better chance than Anderson at nabbing the last spot.

The Dream Teams: 

The CMS, ATLAS and CERN engineers and scientists

Who Are They? The teams who "found" the Higgs boson.

Pros: Well, without them we wouldn't have the biggest physics discovery of the past 30 years.

Cons: The Nobel Prize doesn't recognize groups. Sorry! But thanks!

Odds: None. Damn that three-person rule!

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.