Tuesday, October 08, 2013

2013 Nobel prize in physics: Englert, Higgs

Congratulations to François Englert (left) and Peter Higgs (right)!

Today's Nobel prize in physics has been the most anticipated Nobel prize in any discipline for decades, especially because of the July 4th, 2012 discovery of the God particle, the most important finding in experimental particle physics in at least 30 years.

Well, I am sure it's fair to say that the Higgs boson discovery was more novel, original, and groundbreaking than the discovery of the top quark in the mid 1990s. Some people might argue that the Higgs boson discovery dwarfs the discovery of the massive gauge bosons in the early 1980s, too. Another way to see how the discovery is important: The word "Higgs" appears in 469 articles on this blog – and it is not primarily a Higgs blog in any sense. ;-)

At any rate, people have known about a not-yet-rewarded breakthrough that visibly surpassed all other breakthroughs, a breakthrough that connects the stories of the heroes of theory and the heroes of experiments in the traditional way which is why it made sense that the 2013 Nobel prize in physics could be linked to this development.

The Belgian and British physicists finally won the prize:
“for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”
See the advanced information about the prize on the Nobel Prize server (PDF) or a popular presentation (PDF).

Peter Higgs was guaranteed to be rewarded – he was the only original discoverer who realized and emphasized the existence of the extra particle, one that is now known to have the mass \(126\GeV/c^2\). But the history of the Higgs mechanism and related ideas is somewhat complicated so the precise choice of the winners was seen as a controversial topic by some – but the story of the Higgs mechanism isn't quite an exception. In particular, Robert Brout (died 2011) and François Englert wrote a paper about the Higgs mechanism (spontaneous gauge symmetry breaking) before Peter Higgs did (and he did it independently). See some extra words about the history of the Higgs mechanism.

At 11:40 am, I took the following screenshot of our Higgs Nobel poll because I needed 20 seconds to send the results to Carl XVI Gustaf, the monarch needed 3 minutes to run to the other side of his castle and call the Nobel prize committee, and some additional seconds were needed to finalize the verdict. In total, 5 minutes were needed.

The original announcement was scheduled for 11:45 am or later and 60 minutes were indeed added because Carl XVI Gustaf's dog ate the homework with the list of winners at 11:44 am and it had to be resent.

The 11:40 am screenshot looked like this:

Out of the 209 votes collected among some of the TRF readers, the following contributors to the Higgs et al. mechanism were supported:
  1. Peter Higgs: 43%
  2. François Englert: 15%
  3. Jeffrey Goldstone: 12%
  4. Philip Anderson (1977): 8%
  5. Rolf Heuer (CERN): 6%
  6. Tom Kibble: 5%
The remaining candidates, Guralnik, Weinberg, Gianotti, Nambu, Incandela, and Hagen received 7,5,4,4,2,1 votes, respectively. Extra 1+1+1 votes for Higgs, Nambu, and Goldstone between 11:45 and 12:45 didn't change anything important. At most 3 winners may be picked according to the dynamite inventor's rules. While I agree with Sean Carroll that the limit "3" is arbitrary and artificial, I can't overlook that he misses a more important point, namely that some rules have to exist that prevent inflation of the Nobel prize winners and that preserve their relatively exclusive status (well, relatively, because I have personally talked to 28 Nobel prize winners so far; one winner whom I talked to 10+ times, a very modest man, died 3 weeks ago, RIP David).
CERN live: See CERN Higgs Nobel webcast where CERN bosses comment on the prize – unless you are late
For that reason, prizes to large experimental teams sound undesirable to me. Prizes for their spokespersons are problematic as well because these spokespeople are largely political animals and a scientific Nobel prize shouldn't degenerate into a political one, into an inferior award similar to the Nobel Peace Prize or Nobel Literature Prize (the Economics Memorial Nobel Prize is an intermediate case). In my eyes, the Nobel prize in physics (and chemistry and medicine) are rare examples of prizes that haven't become ridiculous tools of politics or mediocrity and I believe that the committees behind these awards are expected to preserve this special status of the scientific Nobel prizes.

At any rate, the poll suggested Higgs, Englert, and perhaps Goldstone – and this, either with or without Goldstone, happened to be my choice I've been talking about for a year (see my public comment posted yesterday at viXra including Goldstone). François Englert has been my main "horse" whom I was promoting as a winner (not only because of his extensive and interesting work on supersymmetry, supergravity, strings, and branes); click at the link. During the announcement, Englert was called from Stockholm (they couldn't reach Higgs but he warned about his Tuesday invisibility in advance) and asked what are the remaining open issues once the Standard Model is completed. His answer was 1) whether there is broken SUSY at the LHC scale, 2) dark matter, 3) quantum gravity. Our man. ;-) He said it "wasn't very unpleasant" to have won the prize.

So I agreed with the TRF readers which was quite a reason for Carl XVI Gustaf and pals to make the same choice (well, without Jeffrey Goldstone, sorry), after the extra hour they spent by fighting against the contrarians.

Congratulations to the winners for their well-deserved prize – if they care about the prize. ;-)

If you're asking how it's possible that this long text was already published at 12:45 pm, well, I admit that it had been ready for hours before. I had two versions of this text, almost identical ones, that only differ by having Goldstone among the winners. ;-) (Dennis Overbye needed just an hour for a story.) But I was sure that the experimenters wouldn't be included etc. It's not because I don't admire or value the work of the experimenters but because their victory has been the result of heavily collective efforts and the Nobel prize was simply not created to reward large groups. (Joe Incandela, the CMS boss, wisely said after the announcement that for them, the prize is the discovery.)


  1. Congratulations to the winners! The prediction and discovery of the Higgs Boson is the culmination of many years of painstaking effort and ingenuity. But there is one thing I have not yet understood (maybe because I missed something in your posts): Were the winners selected by the poll on the TRF? Does this mean that Lubos Motl was actually involved in the decision making?

  2. Dear TheDOC,

    agreed! As you may perhaps guess, I am bound by commitments of confidentiality in the case that the answer is Yes.

    Best wishes

  3. If you had said 'yes', I would have said, "Wow! The presence of people like you on the committee has reinstated my belief in the Nobel Physics prize. I can now brag to the world that I know people who decided the Nobel Prize!!! That is soooo awesome!!!!"

    Of course, this is purely a hypothetical scenario since you have kept completely silent on the matter. :D

  4. Exactly, you may at most silently wow.

    I tried not to deny any such rumors because no denials could erase doubts, anyway. ;-)

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  6. Experimental high energy physics has reached the point where a Nobel, which is supposed to reward the physicist for something extraordinary and also for his (her) general contributions to physics, cannot be given. 3000 +3000 physicists ! only the spokesmen (women)would be grossly unfair. And CERN, as represented by its director even more so .

    Maybe, to encourage collective work in science a benevolent billionaire could setup a prize to be awarded to groups which discover something extraordinary. The group would get the prestige and the students would be invaluable in experimental work ( they do shifts :) ).

  7. Something that is always so tantalising about this blog is how you can never quite be sure if Lubos is being satirical.
    He is always so plausible, yet the harder you want to believe the more that little doubt nags away, that all may not be quite as it seems. The uncertainty seems quite inescapable.

  8. Perhaps but I said elsewhere, one may also justify the omission of CERN differently: judge them in the same league as the theorists. CERN did the same discovery as the fathers of the mechanism but 48 years later.

    They should get a prize for something they find first, at least something that good theorists are not virtually certain about in advance.

  9. My proposal is because the experimental work is not in the same grouping for a Nobel: independent work etc.

    Nevertheless, if experimental physicists are not encouraged to gather together and try to validate predictions then theory becomes a mathematical game.

    In some sense future generations may look at this as one experiment, its proposal by theorists (~7 of them independently?) 48 years ago and its final validation by 6000+ experimentalists in 2012..

  10. It seems to me that Nobel prizes for original scientific ideas that result in major discoveries. These ideas can be mathematical or experimental but they need to be original. Nobel prizes are not given for carrying out, however skilfully, work that could equally well be carried out by other well trained persons. I find it hard to believe that there were 6000 significant original ideas involved in the experimental work at CERN that resulted in the discovery of the Higgs boson.

  11. This year's Nobel prizes provide even greater evidence of the Zionist conspiracy than usual.

    Two of the Nobel prizes winners in medicine (Rothman and Schekman) are Jewish


    Their main competitors, who did not get them this time are even worse: they are actually Israelis.

    Of the two physics laureates, Englert is not only Jewish but is also a professor at Tel Aviv University:


    And finally Chemistry. All three winners Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, Arieh Warshel are Jewish and the last two are Israeli citizens:


    What happened to the goys? Can't they do science any more. I am reminded of the following passage from Stanislaw Ulam's "Adventures of a Mathematician" (Johnny is John von Neumann):

    I told Banach about an expression Johnny had once used in conversation with me in Princeton before stating some non-­Jewish mathematician's result, "Die Goim haben den folgenden Satzbewiesen" (The goys have proved the following theorem). Banach, who was pure goy, thought it was one of the funniest sayings he had ever heard. He was enchanted by its implication that if the goys could do it, Johnny and I ought to be able to do it better. Johnny did not invent this joke, but he liked it and we started using it.

  12. That is why I am proposing that in order to encourage young physicists to do experimental high energy physics, or astrophysics or many of the disciplines that require group work of many people, there should be a different prize, recognizing the dedication and good work performed by the group as a whole.

    The way it is going young physicists will be choosing subjects that would allow them to shine by themselves. That would be the end of experimental high energy physics ( at least until robotics advances enough to replace 6000 physicists) and string theory will never be validated and will remain a mathematical proposition.

    Let us take one experiment which has 3000 physicists signing the Higgs paper. Maybe half of them are graduate students whose contribution to the Higgs paper has been shifts upon shifts of data taking. The original bit in their thesis will be the study of a paraicular channel for a particular interaction and there the can show their ingenuity. Or if their talents are computational the design of a specific trigger for a specific interaction etc. None of these are Nobel level original researches, as is true for the grand majority of thesis written in physics and not only. One adds a small stone on the edifice being validated.

    There are some "original" experimental proposals : search for axions, or search for monopoles etc. If found then the experimentalist who fueled the interest on the subject to the rest of the group will be eligible, as was Rubbia with the W and Z when they were a gleam in theorists eyes and he moved the earth to get the collider going so they could find them.

    The present collider was a collaborative effort of the HEP community, no strong personalities behind the decision but careful weighted arguments for a discovery machine.

    I am just making the observation that as time goes on it will be hard to find brilliant graduate students and post docs to enter the HEP experimental field, and then theories will become just mathematical guesses.

  13. I quite agree although I don't the necessity of calling it "the Nobel Prize". There are quite many other very respectable prizes and it would certainly be a good idea to have one especially for groups of experimentalists.

    On the other hand, I am getting a little fed up of people referring to "mathematical games". There are indeed "mathematical games" and sometimes they involve quite beautiful mathematics (to those who believe that beautiful mathematics must derive from physics I recommend J.H. Conway's "On numbers and games" or several other books by the same author) but most mathematics is not a "game".

    Those who this in this way of mathematics (and I include among them) remind me of Newton's letter to Halley (of the comet):

    "Mathematicians, that find out, settle and do all the business, must content themselves with being nothing but dry calculators and drudges, and another that does nothing but pretend and grasp at all the things must carry away all the inventions as well of those that were to follow him as of those that went before…”

  14. I want to add here a second way how an experimental high energy physicist might become eligible for the Noble as is, at this day and age.

    By pursuing the same analysis over many experiments after having discovered an anomaly in one of experiments he/sh took part and thus establishing an unexplained/unexpected up to then effect.

    For example there exists the soft photon anomaly http://indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?resId=1&materialId=slides&confId=93025 which has not been satisfactorily settled as far as I know, within the known theories. Suppose , and this is just for an example, it turns out that it is a clear signal of the string structure of the fundamental particles. Then the experimentalists that patiently pursued and established the signal over many experiments would be eligible, in my opinion.

  15. Right but so far it looks too vague for a "discovery", right? What could it be? Why haven't we heard about it later?

  16. "The Journey IS the Reward"

    -- Chinese Proverb

    "The Journey is better than the End"

    -- Cervantes

    The above quote is used by John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach aka "Wizard of Westwood") in his <a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html>TED talk</a> ("Difference between Success & Winning")

  17. Professor Higgs stole the prize from the author of the theory of Superunification
    The nature of the formation of mass was first discovered by Russian scientist Vladimir Leonov in 1996, and not by Professor Higgs:
    Leonov V. S. Quantum Energetics. Volume 1. Theory of Superunification. Cambridge International Science Publishing, 2010, 745 pages.
    Chapter 3. Unification of electromagnetism and gravitation (pages 167-261)
    3.5.1. Formation of mass (pages 218-219)
    To understand the nature of gravitation and gravity it is necessary to understand the nature of the mass of the particle (solid). In the classic theory of gravitation, the mass of the particle (solid) is used as a measure of gravity and inertia. Einstein added that the mass is the measure of curvature of space-time. Now, the theory of Superunification shows that the spherical deformation of quantised space-time is the measure of mass. Thus, this shows that the mass is a non-independent secondary formation in the quantised space-time, does not represent an isolated system (thingin-itself) and is an open quantum mechanics systems, linked permanently with the quantised medium as its bunch of the energy of spherical deformation of the medium. In fact, the classic mass typical of physics dissolved in the quantised space-time as the measure of matter which in the region of the microworld of the elementary particles simply does not actually exist. In reality, there is only the spherically deformed local region of the quantised space-time whose deformation energy (3.56) determines the particle mass. Therefore, the movement of the particle with the mass in the superelastic quantised medium is the wave transfer of the energy of spherical deformation of the medium governed by the effect of the principle of corpuscular-wave dualism. The Superunification theory makes it possible to derive equations describing the mass m by the vector of spherical deformation D (3.43) of the quantised space-time. The Gauss theory determines unambiguously the mass by the flow of deformation vector (3.43) penetrating through the closed surface S around the particle [12]:
    Equation of the mass (3.85)
    Equation (3.85) treats the mass of the particle (solid) as the parameter of spherical deformation of quantised space-time. Remove the spherical deformation from the quantised medium and the mass disappears. This is observed in annihilation of the positron and the electron when the energy W of spherical deformation of the particles is released and transfers to the electromagnetic energy of radiation of gamma quanta [13]:
    Equation (3.87) determines the equivalence of the mass and energy of deformation of the quantised space-time.
    The theory of Superunification has experimental support:
    3.5.3. Simple quantum mechanics effects (pages 224-227)
    10.9.1. Results of the tests of a quantum engine for generating thrust without the ejection of reactive mass (pages 685-689)
    Video: The tests 2009 of a quantum pulsed engine for generating thrust without the ejection of reactive mass. http://theoryofsuperunification-leonov.blogspot.ru/2011/07/video-tests-2009-of-quantum-pulsed.html

    The Higgs boson has no experimental verification. This is a major scientific fraud, deception and falsification.
    Leonov. Higgs boson does not exist in nature:

  18. It seems to me that this forum has already exceeded its quota of unrecognised geniuses, so I suggest taking your fascinating theory elsewhere.
    (There is a blog which is, I think, just perfect for this sort of stuff. Search the Internet for "Not even wrong" .)

  19. Or may use the viXra ;)

  20. If I’m not mistaken Higgs is the only physicist name that
    has been verbalised?

    E.g. you often hear the term ‘Higgsing a theory’…