10/15/2013 09:15 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Basking in the Reflection from the Nobel Prize

As you may have heard Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics:

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

There is also a nice historical article that talks about the theory and how it developed as well as the discovery. I found it to be very enlightening and it wasn't watered down technically.

As particle physicists, we were predicting that the Nobel would go for the Higgs boson discovery and since it can only go to three or fewer living individuals, we were guessing it would go to Higgs and Englert. Brout wrote the first paper with Englert, but he is no longer living. Still, as a member of the CMS collaboration which was mentioned in the citation, I've felt great excitement.

Before the award, we were pondering on the idea that it could go to experimentalists. This would have entailed giving it to our elected spokesperson or something like that. As the collaboration has about 3000 scientists, this didn't seem to us to be quite the thing. So we were resigned to having the theorists win it.

There was another group of theorists who were instrumental in laying out the origin of mass arguments that included Hagen, Guralnik, and Kibble that are probably a bit bummed out as there could only be less than three winners.

So, should the Nobel committee change their rules for awarding prizes so that either more theorists or the experimentalists could have shared it? Absolutely not! Society has come to revere the Nobel Prize partly because it has a long tradition and because they don't bend to timely whims.

Has the committee gotten the award wrong before? Should other people have won it in the past? Perhaps, but I'm not going to throw stones. I'm guessing that you are thinking that the reward of learning the laws of nature should be enough for my collaborators and I. You are right!

However, I'll let you know that because EVERYONE knows about the Nobel prize and society notices it, it has become a symbol of good science. Should these prizes be the focus of the media's reports on science? I would be happy if the media covered science in more depth more often. However, it still is nice to hear about the Nobel in an over-the-top prestigious way.

When I was a beginning graduate student, part of the enticement of particle physics for a research area was the possibility of winning the Nobel Prize. While that may be shallow and unrealistic, we all have grand dreams. And besides, we are mentioned in the citation!