Back in Los Angeles, after my brief action-packed jaunt to Geneva. Higgsteria continues, and I’ll be on NPR’s Science Friday later today to talk about it. That’s 2pm Eastern, 11am Pacific time. Hope to do justice to the palpable air of excitement at CERN and around the world.
After that, I think certain parts of my book are going to need some re-writes…
One thing I don’t want to get lost in all the hubbub. Amidst all the many impressive aspects of the work the physicists and machine-builders did to make the LHC happen and achieve this fantastic discovery, I was very struck by how eager people were to give credit to other people. In their main talks, both Fabiola Gianotti and Joe Incandela went out of their way to give credit to the machine builders, the technicians who worked on their experiments, and the thousands of colleagues within each collaboration who contributed to the result. But that eagerness to share credit went well beyond the official announcements — everyone we talked to was quick to point out how far-reaching and international the project really was. The very quintessence of a group effort.
Unfortunately, at least in the sciences, large groups can’t win the Nobel Prize. There will be much discussion in days to come about who deserves a prize for inventing the theory behind the Higgs; I think it’s complicated, and I’m not going to push for any particular set of people. When it comes to the experiments, the matter is easier: there’s no fair way to give it to anyone, really. There was a lot of Nobel-quality effort, without question, but I can’t see how it’s possible to narrow it down to just three people, which is the strict Nobel rule. What we really need to do is change that rule, but the folks in charge are (probably correctly) very conservative about such things, so I don’t see it happening soon.
So let me throw out one name that should at least be in the conversation: Lyn Evans, “the man who built the LHC.” Evans was in charge of the project for many years, and it was his dedication and ability that brought it to successful completion. He is now officially retired as a CERN staff member, although he’s still working as a member of the CMS collaboration and the leader of the effort to build a linear collider. 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. People who are much more informed about the detailed history of the LHC and the ATLAS/CMS experiments will be in a better position that I to render such judgments, but I think the Nobel committee could do a lot worse.