No Love for Germer?

I'm working on something at the moment that involves talking a bit about the historical development of quantum theory, and specifically the demonstration of the wave nature of electrons. One of the famous proofs of this is the Davisson-Germer experiment, showing that electrons bouncing off a nickel target produce a diffraction pattern.

(As an aside, let me note that I love the fact that the Wikipedia stub on the experiment blatantly plagiarizes the text of the Hyperphysics page (which is screamingly obvious, in that it refers to a figure that they didn't cut-and-paste into Wikipedia). Way to go, guys.)

Anyway, the experiment was done around 1927, and got Davisson a share of the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physics (he shared it with G.P. Thomson, son of J.J. Thomson, who did his own electron diffraction experiments at around the same time). Germer, however, didn't get any dynamite money, despite nearly equal billing.

I've always guessed that he must've died between the experiment and the prize (there are no posthumous Nobels), but he actually lived until 1971. Which raises the question of why he didn't get a share of the Prize, given that the Nobel can be split three ways, and his name is in all the textbooks as co-author of the key experiment.

So, is there a good story behind this, or is it just another baffling Nobel omission?

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In the pdf, "Dr. Germer, to whose skill and perseverance a great part of the success of the definitive experiments is due"

The brain gets the Prize, the hands are directed back into the lab or discharged outright. Not of Our Class, Dearie. Zieglar-Natta olefin polymerization catalysts arose from neither Zieglar nor Natta. A tech who was sloppy with autoclave cleaning made the discovery. NOCD.

Rosalind Franklin was safely dead (1958) before Watson, Crick, and Wilkins got their Nobel (1962) for work published in Nature 171 737 (1953).

The way Wikipedia get improve is when users improve it. That includes catching those unfortunate few who decides to violent other people copyright. I've removed the relevant section from the article. It would be great if someone who knows about the topic (e.g. you) can improve the article though of course. ;)

So, is there a good story behind this, or is it just another baffling Nobel omission?

I'm sure that many decisions by the Nobel committees looks baffling, but they labor under some severe constraints in the will that guides them. IIRC they should really reward discovery, which makes rewarding theoretical advances fuzzy, or contingent on confirmation experiments. But AFAIK the archives are open to study why they choose as they did, which should help such questions.

In this case, puzzling together Davisson's Nobel lecture with the presentation speech, it seems to me that his work was done with chiefly two consecutive collaborators. (And Thomson may have had some as well.) That could explain the restriction.

By Torbjörn Lars… (not verified) on 10 Aug 2007 #permalink

The Nobel committee is restricted to no more than 3 recipients of the prize. In this case, Davisson had a collaborator (Germer) and Thomson had one too (Reid). They gave the prize to the leaders of the collaboration.

In recent times, the problem has gotten even worse. Witness the 1984 prize. Certainly Rubbia and van der Meer had many collaborators who contributed significantly to the discovery of the W and Z. But they have never given the physics prize to a group of people, only individuals, presumably the intellectual leaders. It's not a perfect system.