Higgs Physicists’ Plan for Winning a Nobel Prize, Step 1: Stay Alive

By Joseph Calamia | August 6, 2010 1:22 pm

nobelcontendersAs the Large Hadron and the Tevatron Colliders compete to find the suspected mass-giving particle known as the Higgs boson, another competition has already begun: who should get credit when/if they find it? Six physicists came up with the theoretical mechanism to describe how the boson would work, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences can only split a Nobel Prize three ways.

Here are the contenders: Robert Brout and François Englert in Belgium, Peter Higgs in Scotland, and  Tom Kibble in London with Gerald Guralnik and Carl R. Hagen in the United States. Each group published their papers at almost the same time (all in 1964) and devised their descriptions independently.

As Nature News reports, the debate arose after a web advertisement for a meeting last week on the Higgs  mentioned only Brout, Englert, and Higgs. Though Kibble, Guralnik, and Hagen were last to publish and cited the other physicists’ papers, the three recently shared an American Physical Society award with the other trio in part for the describing the boson’s mass-giving technique: the so-called Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble mechanism.

Given that the Nobel also can’t be awarded posthumously, that may leave something else for the six to consider, CERN physicist John Ellis said to Nature News:

“The first three in the Nobel queue probably feel quite relaxed—all they have to do is stay alive until the the particle is discovered…. The ones just behind them may understandably be quite nervous.”

Related content:
Discoblog: I Swear: Subatomic Particles Are Singing to Me!
Discoblog: World Science Festival: What if Physicists Don’t Find the Higgs Boson?
Discoblog: LHC Shut Down By Wayward Baguette, Dropped by Bird Saboteur
Discoblog: Will the LHC’s Future Cancel Out Its Past?
80beats: Fermilab Particle Physicists Wonder: Are There 5 Higgs Bosons?

Image:Wikimedia / Winners of the J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics (L to R Kibble, Guralnik, Hagen, Englert, and Brout — Higgs also won but not pictured)

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    I believe determining percentage of credit for your Nobel Prize is whats known as an “Upper Class Problem.” That’s not to say I wouldn’t fight like a Jerry Springer Contestant to make sure my name came first.

  • Mary

    Ellis seemingly has never read the three PRL. Zinn-Justin has and below is his presentation from France. The order of publication is clear – the quality has been lost over the last 46 years. GHK had the strongest paper and were the first to talk on the solution in 1963 in both London (IC) and Cambridge, MA (MIT and Harvard) as they worked with Salam, Wally Gilbert, and Paul Matthews.


  • Sorbit

    Will someone also get the prize if the Higgs is not found as predicted?

  • Mary

    Maybe Goldstone will get the prize if it is not found – although he was snubbed in 2008 as he should have got the prize then.

  • frank

    Mary says that GHK “were first to talk on the solution in 1963 in both London (IC) and Cambridge MA…” Can she (or anyone, in private to me if they wish f.close@physics.ox.ac.uk) support this? I am researching the history of this business for a book (The Infinity Puzzle) and am unaware that any public presentation was made by any of GHK prior to them writing their paper in 1964. If they did make a public presentation that could be exceedingly important (e.g. Salam’s case for Nobel Prize was due in part to him having given public lectures at IC in 1967, independent of Weinberg’s own later paper and Paul Matthews testifying to the fact).If however there was no such presentation, GHK claims for priority are harder to support.

  • Mary

    Frank is right…Salam won the prize primarily on a lecture not a paper.

    Ironically, it is the GHK paper that Salam worked primarily from due to proximity of GHK at IC London as well as the completeness of the paper. Bob Lange (Physics Prof) at Brandeis Univ may be able to help on this. He was at IC London at the time and Harvard with Guralnik, Schwinger, Gilbert, and Hagen (MIT).

  • Mary

    Frank – Walter Gilbert may still be around Harvard and could probably speak to this also. Unfortunately Paul Matthews is not around to confirm as he is a key piece of the puzzle also.


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