Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nobel prizes 2006

It is not easy to predict the Nobel prizes. Here is what Thomson Scientific says about the physics candidates:
  • 50% - Desurvire, Nakazawa, Payne
  • 31% - Fert, Grünberg
  • 19% - Guth, Linde, Steinhardt

They calculate the candidates using some citation-counting black magic.

The first group are three people who have worked on fiber optics. This field is always the most likely one but I have been annoyed by the LASER Nobel prizes for quite some time. Einstein had no chance to receive the award even for the groundbreaking pioneering theoretical discovery of the stimulated emission and the modern guys are just adding small technical additions to this old field and getting dozens of Nobel prizes.

The second pair has discovered giant magnetoresistance in 1988: you deal with thin non-magnetic and ferromagnetic alternating layers of film and you observe a rapid decrease of resistance once you turn on the magnetic field and change the mostly anti-ferromagnetic relation between the magnetic layers into a parallel orientation. While it is difficult for me to appreciate the purely theoretical value of this discovery, the effect has been used in modern hard drives and MRAM memory chips.

Of course, I like the third group. The new WMAP data have made the case for inflation really strong although many of us could still have doubts whether the general theory has been experimentally established, despite an experimental confirmation of the predicted approximate scale-invariance of the perturbations. On the other hand, I find it extremely difficult to imagine that the theory could be falsified or superseded by something very different in any foreseeable future.

The 2005 candidates were discussed previously - some of them may continue to be candidates for 2006 - and the actual 2005 winners were discussed on this blog, too. My last successful prediction of the physics Nobel prize winners happily occured in 2004.

Also, the Reference frame is looking forward to some female winners. Among the 758 winners, 33 are women so far which includes two physicists and three chemists; Marie Curie is counted in both groups. The last physics/chemistry female Nobel prize winners occured in 1963 and 1964, before the expansion of modern feminism.

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