Skip to main content

Sakurai prize announcement adds to Nobel speculation

Peter Higgs may have to be satisfied with this plushie prize, at least for now.
At 9:45 Greenwich Mean Time tomorrow morning (that's 5:45 a.m. if you're on the East Coast in America), the Nobel Prize committee will announce the winners of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics. If you're in Europe, or a particularly early riser, you can watch the live webcast of the announcement.

Everyone's been tossing out Nobel Prize predictions this year, and a recent announcement of another award is adding to the growing pile of evidence that Peter Higgs won't get his Swedish laurels tomorrow. The American Physical Society has awarded Higgs and five other physicists the 2010 J.J. Sakurai prize, one of the most distinguished awards a theoretical physicist can hope to get, "for elucidation of the properties of spontaneous symmetry breaking in four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory and of the mechanism for the consistent generation of vector boson masses"—that is, developing an explanation for how particles get their mass. According to this mechanism, there is a field that fills the entire universe, analogous to an electromagnetic field, and particles acquire mass by interacting with that field via the Higgs boson.

Wait—six physicists? But Higgs is the only one with his name on the particle! Ian Sample at the Guardian breaks it down:

Higgs wasn't the only one working on the problem. In Brussels, Robert Brout and Francois Englert wrote out a similar theory that was published a couple of weeks before Higgs's work appeared in print. Later that year, three more researchers weighed in (sorry) with their own account of mass. They were Gerry Guralnik at Brown University, [Carl] Hagen at Rochester University and Tom Kibble at Imperial College, London. Rarely however, are all six credited with contributing to the theory.

The CERN link above, is a good example of Sample's final point—while careful to mention Robert Brout and Fran├žois Englert, it fails to mention out Guralnick, Hagen, and Kibble. But the Nobel Prize can only be split three ways; David Harris at symmetry suggests that awarding the Sakurai prize to all six physicists might have put the Nobel people in a quandary:

So what will happen tomorrow? My guess is that the Nobel committee will avoid dealing with the difficulty of too many recipients for the time being and at least wait until there is movement on the experimental front of the Higgs search. Recognizing only three recipients for an experimental discovery will present a monster, and undoubtedly controversial, challenge for the Nobel committee.

Higgs might not get the Nobel, but that doesn't mean excitement isn't brewing underground in our favorite giant accelerator. There are clear signs of life—and imminent excitement—from CERN's public information office, thanks a wonderful YouTube channel called
The following video goes underground with the CMS technical coordinator, in full hard hats, to check out how the detector's commissioning is coming along. In the absence of beam coming through the accelerator, the collaboration can check that the instruments are aligned and in proper working order by using them to detect cosmic rays:

There's more good news for fans of particle physics TV—a new episode of Colliding Particles is online! In an earlier post I introduced this beautifully shot web series chronicling the lives of three physicists who have a plan for finding the Higgs in all that ATLAS data. The latest episode shows both theorists and accelerator physicists readying for a restart, and addresses the tricky question of whether the multi-billion dollar accelerator deserves its price tag:

Colliding Particles - Episode 5: Collidonomics from Mike Paterson on Vimeo.


  1. As I said over on the Symmetry Breaking site... GHK deserves much of the credit for this so glad Dick, Gerry, and Tom and team got their due on this APS Sakurai prize. It is especially nice since PRL is an APS publication (the papers were published in PRL back in 1964). If they can have a Nobel that includes all three groups maybe that would be best. In fact, I think the Nobel Committee can award Nobel's to "Groups".

    GHK shows how the gauge particle gets mass but also the SPECIFIC way Goldstone’s theorem is avoided - so cutting them out would really taint the Nobel for this award.

    Congrats to all six.

  2. Here is article from U of R's physics site.

  3. Brout and Englert's paper was first, and the best. It does both the Abelian and non-Abelian case, and it's approach is still the one used in Peskin and Schroeder, while the GHK paper is pretty archaic.

  4. Peter Higgs deserve Nobel but if we are look at Nobels Will
    "to those who conferred the greatest benefit on mankind"
    and add the great importance of climate change to all humans I think Climate Physics should be the direction. I suggest Jim Hansen for his scientific work and foresight of the problem.

  5. The recent history published by Guralnik seems to have the most complete account of the mass mechanism. The paper points out the history, approach, and merits of each paper – not something done in other “historical surveys”. Good read with solid historical context. Enjoy.




Post a Comment

Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know: "What's going on in this video ? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream. (We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux ) Image Credit: St0rmz via Flickr Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?