Nobel Season 2014

With this morning's announcement of the 2014 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, the annual Nobel season is upon us. I didn't do a betting pool post this year, because when I announced last year's winner, I was reminded that I had never paid off the prize to the previous year's winner. So I think I just don't have the time to manage that contest right now...

Anyway, the Physics prize will be announced tomorrow, and while I'm not going to host a contest, I did want to offer some space for speculation about what might win. Unlike last year, when the suspense was mostly about which subset of the many discoverers of the Higgs boson would get screwed, this one's pretty wide open, as you can see from the range of speculation in blogs, magazines and news services.

As always, I'm sorta-kinda rooting for a quantum optics prize for Bell Inequality experiments-- Aspect, Clauser, and Zeilinger would be a nice set. Those guys have all done amazing work over the years. There's also a possibility of a quantum information theory prize of some sort-- a couple of years back, Thomson was floating a slate that included Charles Bennett and one of my undergrad professors, Bill Wootters for (among other things) coming up with quantum teleportation (explanation with stuffed animals here, in case it happens to win and you need a link...). That would also be pretty awesome-- Williams would hold bragging rights over Amherst for a long, long time...

As I said on Twitter, I would also be pretty psyched to see a dark matter Nobel for Vera Rubin, whose story gets a good chunk of a chapter in Eureka. She's done some great science over the last sixty years, and her story is a great inspiration for anybody juggling job and family. In addition to the story in that post, there's also the tale of her first conference presentation: She had recently had a baby, so one of the senior faculty at Cornell said "Well, you won't be able to go to the meeting, so I'll give the talk instead," to which she replied "No, I'll do it." And went to the meeting, family in tow, to give a talk that made a big splash.

If you could find a picture of her looking grumpy, a "Vera Rubin doesn't have time for your bullshit" meme would be cool, but she's pretty cheerful in all the photos I've seen...

As I also said on Twitter, though, if you put a gun to my head and made me pick a winner for this year's Physics prize, I'd probably go with something related to topological insulators. They're a huge area of interest in condensed matter right now, and it's been a few years since the prize went to condensed matter work, while astrophysics and quantum optics have gotten prizes more recently. I couldn't begin to name names, but if you want a bit of background, this post on topological insulators is one of the most reliable traffic generators in my back catalogue. Which, come to think of it, is more or less how Thomson generates their predictions every year, so I feel I'm on solid ground with that prediction...

Anyway, if you have a better idea of what will or ought to win this year's Nobel in physics, leave a comment. We'll find out early tomorrow morning...

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I would like to predict a Clauser-Aspect-Zeilinger prize again, but I have been wrong about this so many times that it would be crazy to do so again. The only point in its favor this year is that it is the 50th anniversary of Bell's theorem, but I am not sure that the academy takes such things into account in their deliberations.

It would be a massive snub to give a quantum information prize before a prize for Bell's theorem, so I don't think they will do that either. If there is a prize in this area, then right now I think it would have to be for teleportation because that has the flavor of being both fundamental and a bit applied. I don't really think there will be a qinfo prize until some quantum technology has seen widespread adoption. If some bank were to adopt QKD on a large scale then I could see a Bennett-Bressard-Ekert prize, but we are a long way from that. If anything, I think quantum metrology has the best chance of being the first quantum informationy prize, assuming we don't count Wienland-Haroche, because there is a chance that those ideas will get implemented in say atomic clocks or gravitational wave detectors a long time before any other quantum technologies.

I am going to go with topological insulators as my prize prediction. I don't have anything more than a basic understanding of what they are or why they are important, so the main reason I am predicting this is because it is not be a quantum foundations/information prize, and the main thing I am confident about is that we won't get a prize in this area. Of course, I am actually hoping that, by Murphy's law, we'll see a Bell's theorem prize in the only year I don't predict it.

By Matt Leifer (not verified) on 06 Oct 2014 #permalink

To recap recent prizes:
2013 Higgs particle
2012 Manipulation of individual quantum systems
2011 Dark energy
2010 Graphene
2009 Fiber optics & CCDs
2008 Symmetry breaking & CKM
2007 Giant magnetoresistance
2006 CMB

I would wager against a particle physics prize, as the Higgs prize was last year. If I had to guess, then, I could imagine prizes
- split between Aharonov & Berry, for the Aharonov-Bohm effect and Berry's phase;
- split or shared amongst a variety of Bell's Inequality folks, including Aspect, Zeilinger and associates;
- split between Vera Rubin (as you say) for galactic rotation curves and shared amongst [some combination of bullet cluster people], though I imagine the Nobel Committee might wait for a direct detection experiment for this, on the hedge that some zany MOND something or other is right and dark matter is an illusion;
- split between [the 1988 Gamma Cephei exoplanet people], [the 1992 pulsar exoplanet people], and maybe [some related techniques people];

and if it winds up being an unlikely two-years-in-a-row particle physics streak,
- shared between Adler and Jackiw for the chiral anomaly;
- split or shared between a SNO person [solar neutrinos] a reactor/beam neutrinos person and some atmospheric neutrinos person;
seem reasonable.

By Evan Berkowitz (not verified) on 06 Oct 2014 #permalink

I should say that that neutrino prize will probably cite neutrino oscillations!

By Evan Berkowitz (not verified) on 06 Oct 2014 #permalink

Also in the unlikely two-particle-physics-prizes-in-a-row category is RHIC people for the quark-gluon plasma.

By Evan Berkowitz (not verified) on 06 Oct 2014 #permalink

I am also going for the topological insulator bandwagon after betting Clauser-Aspect-Zeilinger repeatedly. I'd like to include Duncan Haldane as a recipient. So, I'd say Duncan Haldane, Charles Kane, and Shoucheng Zhang.

The combination of Aharonov and Berry is possible, but that could have happened a long time ago.

The prize for neutrino oscillations should include someone from Super-Kamiokande. In fact, I think the reason the Nobel Prize hasn't been awarded for the discovery already is because Yoji Totsuka died in 2008 and they aren't sure what to do. In any case, I think it's unlikely that this year's prize will go to particle physics after last year.

In my heart of hearts I hope for Peace for birth control now that it didn't get medicine this year either.

Nobel Prizes are always intriguing but it is difficult to decide which scientist is more worthy of it, It would be nice fot the Nobel comitee to change the rules to allow organizations or research gruops to recieve science prizes.Because ther will always be the rumour that somebody was leftout. as it has happende in the past, for example with the Higgs mechanism.

It's going to be Michio Kaku, for being the father of string field theory.

By physicsboy (not verified) on 06 Oct 2014 #permalink