The experimentalists didn’t feel overlooked. Fabiola Gianotti, a research physicist at CERN, said, “It’s very nice that the ATLAS and CMS experiments have been cited in the Nobel motivation. . . . The young physicists here are super excited.”
The efforts at CERN involved thousands of scientists, and it would have been impossible to find just a few experimentalists to honor, said Michael Turner, president of the American Physical Society.
“Discoveries more and more involve a village,” Turner said. “It took 10,000 people and $10 billion and 20 years to build the instrument that made this discovery, and you’d be hard pressed to narrow that group down even to 100, let alone to three.”
First came the theory. In the latter half of 1964, the six theorists published three separate papers just a few months apart in the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters. The first came from Englert and co-author Robert Brout, who died in 2011 and thus was ineligible for the Nobel. The second came from Peter Higgs. The third came from Guralnik, Hagen and Tom Kibble.
Guralnik has written an account of how he and his colleagues developed their theory and defended it against early skeptics. Guralnik said his team had been overly cautious in submitting their work for publication. Then, with their paper already sealed in an envelope and ready to be mailed to a scientific journal, they saw pre-prints of the two papers by Englert/Brout and Higgs.
“Frankly, we didn’t even take them very seriously at the time. We thought they missed the main point,” Guralnik said.
Hagen said, “We felt immodestly that ours was the best treatment.” He and his co-authors had no inkling that this would be historic stuff, and did not worry about scientific priority. They certainly didn’t want to “get involved in a long quibble about it,” he said.
The third author of their paper, Kibble, of Imperial College London, was quoted in a story on the college’s Web site saying that, although he regards his team’s work as “the most thorough and complete” theory, the other two papers were published first and “it is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the Prize cannot be shared by more than three people.”
“Should I worry about the textbooks say about me 30 years from now?” Hagen asked. “Maybe not. That’s why I guess I can be a little bit remote on this and say, yeah, it hurts, but it doesn’t really change my life in some fundamental way. It will reduce my ultimate impact on the literature of this sub-field.”
Swedish Academy decisions are final.
“You don’t get to say to the Nobel Prize committee, ‘You got it wrong,’ ” said Nobel laureate John Mather, an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Mather knows what a Nobel can mean for a scientist. He’s constantly invited to give lectures now. But in many ways he’s just a government employee like everyone else.
Nobel or not, he’s still furloughed.