Note: this article is being updated in real time as events unfold... Updates are at the bottom. Note in particular the 12.05 update...!
Everybody is waiting for the announcement of the recipients of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics, which will happen at today 11.45AM CET. The prize giving announcement has always been an entertaining moment, but this year many expect that a recognition will be given to the discovery of the Higgs boson. Last year the finding was declared by the CERN experiments on July 4th, making it impossible to award the prize in 2012 (it was too late to qualify). This year, however, it is entirely possible that theorists imagining the particle, or experimentalists discovering it, or both will be in some way recognized for the monumental find.
Particle physicists have received a string of Nobel prizes for their fundamental discoveries in the past. If we look at the elementary particles of the Standard Model, however, there is not such a clear pattern. Discoveries have meant a quick Nobel in some cases, but a much more delayed one in others; and there is unfinished business... Let us make a quick summary.
- The W and Z bosons discovered in 1983 promptly granted Rubbia and Van der Meer the prize in 1984;
- the discovery of charm was similarly quickly recognized with the 1976 prize;
- as for the tau lepton, this one yielded a Nobel prize to Martin Perl with quite a bit of delay: in 1995, when the particle had been spotted almost 20 years before.
And what to say of the top quark ? The discovery of the massive sixth quark took many years and was the result of a giant effort, one comparable to that which has produced the Higgs boson discovery. However the particle, observed in 1995 by the CDF and DZERO collaborations, has not granted any Physics Nobel prize yet. I have argued elsewhere that I believe the prize should be given to Giorgio Bellettini for this discovery, but maybe the Stockholm committee has never been impressed by that discovery. Or maybe they wish to wait longer. And they might as well do the same with the Higgs.
If you look at it, the Higgs boson has been the subject of such a media storm last year, that it must feel almost annoying to have to go with the flow and do what most of us now expect. If I were a member of the committee, this year I would have been looking around for sensible ways to get out of this forced path.
And then there is the question of who to award the prize to. To the CMS and ATLAS collaborations ? To CERN ? To three of the theorists who most contributed to the hypothesis of the Higgs boson existence ? It is a tough decision, especially since the first two choices would break the rule that the Nobel prize is awarded to at most three individuals. Unless the prize is given to spokespersons (Incandela and Gianotti), a choice that might be criticized on the grounds that the spokespersons were only there at the right moment, when scores of other maybe just as deserving colleagues who have worked at preparing for the Higgs discovery would be left down.
All in all, there is still enough uncertainty on whether the Higgs boson will be a motivation for this year's Physics prize to keep us tied to the screens this morning. CERN however has prepared for the possibility that the prize be awarded for the Higgs discovery - they apparently have already organized a press conference and sent invitations, and have planned other commemorative actions, just in case. So stay tuned - I will update this blog and comment on the result in just about 45 minutes!
Update: below is a view of the crowd that has gathered in front of the CMS side of Building 40 at CERN, where TV screens will be broadcasting the Nobel announcement in a few minutes.
Update: the announcement has been delayed by 30 minutes, apparently. Maybe they are reconsidering their choice ?
Update, 11.48AM: still 26 minutes to go. Meanwhile, the crowd at building 40 at CERN has reached the dimensions typical of major events. And some are speculating that the winners this year will be Higgs, Englert, and CERN. This would be a reasonable split, but of course it would leave many unhappy - theorists, as well as experimentalists...
UPDATE, 12.05: The CERN site says already that the prize has been given for the Higgs boson - so somebody must have pushed the button too early by mistake ! I am trying to understand which page this appeared in (I just got the information from a credible source but did not get the web address). - Update: either this has appeared shortly and then been removed, or the information was faulty - investigating...
Update, 12:10: still 34 minutes to go... On twitter, somebody is speculating that the Nobel committee can't find Peter Higgs on his mobile phone...
Update, 12:13: CERN nonchalantly explains that the 1PM press conference scheduled at the CERN globe today will serve the purpose of commenting the Nobel prize announcement whatever that may be.
Update, 12:17: despite the hour of delay, the floor of building 40 is packed with CERN physicists. Some are sitting on the floor, many take pictures of each other, some eat fast food picked up at the cafeteria at the center of the ground floor.
Update, 12:20: or is it going to go to quantum tunnelling? Speculations are continuing. The Nobel prize TV channel in the meantime is reporting that the academy is still in session, and that the announcement is coming soon... For sure they like to keep the suspence up!
Update, 12:35: nine minutes to go. Seems like we'll know soon, at last...
Update, 12.40: a CERN announcement of the prize given to the Higgs boson ? Fake or real ? See http://cern-online.org/
UPDATE: Joe Incandela, who's next to me at building 40 at cern, says he's given no statement so the reported one in the above web site must be a fake...
Update: the floor of building 40 at cern with Incandela and collaborators watching the Nobel announcement.
Update: if you want to follow the CERN press conference on the Nobel prize award, you can do so from 2PM at this link.