About the SA Blog Network

The Curious Wavefunction

The Curious Wavefunction

Musings on chemistry and the history and philosophy of science
The Curious Wavefunction Home

In surprise advance announcement, 2013 Nobel Prize in physics awarded to Higgs boson

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

A proton-proton collision which may or may not produce the Higgs boson (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

In a stunning and premature decision that is a first in the 113 year history of the august institution, the Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm today announced the awarding of the 2013 Nobel prize for Physics to the Higgs Boson. Originally scheduled for October 8, the announcement instead came more than a week in advance. The change in date was guarded with the same secrecy that has always guarded the nominations for the coveted prize. The award has sparked immediate and intense controversy and speculation, both because of its premature announcement and because of the highly unconventional nature of the recipient.

According to Prof. Lars Brink, the chairman of the Nobel physics committee, the decision was driven by a simple reason: to quell the rancorous feelings regarding division of credit and authorship that have suffused the scientific community ever since the particle was discovered in July last year. “We were startled and depressed by how personal the controversy got after last year’s discovery of the boson”, remarked Prof. Brink. “Instead of focusing on the finding itself – which was unanimously regarded as a long sought after breakthrough – both scientists and the media got obsessed with who should deserve the credit, whether one, two, four or six people should win the prize. We found that the beautiful discipline of physics was being torn apart by this constant bickering. It was no longer about the science, it was a beauty contest.”

Confronted with the impossible task of deciding who exactly to award the prize – a decision that would have been controversial regardless of its outcome – and distraught by the incessant obsession with people instead of particles, the committee took the radical but well-considered step of omitting human beings from the prize altogether. “The decision was grueling, but we thought about it a long time and finally reached a consensus. We said, look, it’s not really about the theorists or the experimentalists, it’s really about the particle; this fundamental, all-encompassing particle that underpins the very existence of matter”, explained Prof. Lars Bergstrom, a member of the committee and a particle physicist himself. “Nobody denies the tremendous efforts and creativity contributed by the scientists and engineers who predicted the particle and built the LHC. But since the real hero of the story is the boson itself, why not take human beings out of the equation altogether? We therefore decided to honor the one thing that really matters in this whole story”.

By no means was the radical departure from tradition an easy task; one member of the committee who chose to remain anonymous disclosed that the interminable late-night sessions, shouting matches and the unprecedented interruption of a proud and flawed human decision process by an objective, dispassionate analysis had forced her to see a therapist. Another member confided that “While I realize that science is a very human process, in this case it has been the ‘human’ part of it that has really driven me up the wall.”

The Higgs boson thus becomes the first particle, and the first non-human entity, to be awarded the Nobel Prize in any field. Since interviews with the particle could not be held for obvious reasons, the media was instead shown a graph displaying a bump supposed to indicate its existence. A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations. Reporters were also treated to a video showing the kind of particle collision that produces the Higgs; however since the effect is statistical, no one can be sure that that particular collision has anything whatever to do with the breakthrough.

The seven human candidates (five theorists and two experimentalists) have had mixed reactions to the surprise announcement. Dr. Peter Higgs who had the most invested in the discovery had the following to say: “I am very happy for my namesake boson. I am very happy that it has been recognized for this singular honor. I agree that it’s not about the people, it’s about the science, and I humbly submit….DAMN IT, I should have won that damn prize”. Others took a more philosophical view. A leading scientist on the experimental team mused out loud, “When I think about it, I realize that we are no more than particles and fields ourselves in this endless and accelerating cosmos. The great black hole at the center of the galaxy beckons us in the spirit of Ulysses’s sirens, and our minds are being seduced and ravaged at this very moment by the very guts of the cosmic leviathan…”. At this point the glassy-eyed scientist was quickly ushered into a waiting car by some family members.

The awarding of the prize to the boson has also made it difficult to nominate a speaker for the traditional Nobel lecture in December. After another round of votes, the decision was taken to simply leave the stage empty for an hour and let the all-pervasive Higgs field around us do the talking. According to Prof. Brink, “During this one-hour period, the audience will be asked to maintain complete silence, close their eyes, and try to imagine how the Higgs bosons in their brains give rise to neural signals that generate thoughts of envy, lust and disappointment. A better tribute to this remarkable particle will be hard to imagine.”

Note: In case it’s not clear, this post is supposed to be satirical and humorous. I don’t see the Nobel Prize being awarded to non-human entities anytime soon. Meanwhile, the brilliant men and women who further our understanding of life and the universe will continue to win well-deserved awards like the Nobel Prize. The real point of this post was to stress the fact – through satire – that what really matters are the discoveries themselves. As Richard Feynman put it after he received the award, “I’ve already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery….”

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 18 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. bigbopper 8:48 am 09/30/2013

    Very funny spoof! I didn’t know Scientific American went in for that kind of thing, but it was enjoyable!

    Link to this
  2. 2. Girish Nair 10:42 am 09/30/2013

    Also announced…Nobel prize for Mathematics goes to Pi, prize in Medicine goes to DNA and the Peace prize goes to Mother Nature.

    Link to this
  3. 3. ted.strauss 11:27 am 09/30/2013

    It is really irresponsible to post articles like this, that are not clearly spoof/humorist in style. I’m all for humor, but there are only a couple lines of this blog post that make it seem obviously like a joke, the rest reads like a legitimate article, and the story is plausible. SA is a legitimate science publication, why would you want to spread disinformation by publishing completely false stories that are barely satirical. Please study The Onion if you want to learn how to write decent satire.

    Link to this
  4. 4. TakeNobodysWord 5:08 pm 09/30/2013

    Dammit, you had me fooled until the last paragraph. When I got to the part about an hour of silence I finally started thinking “No, there is no way that can be true”. I’m not usually a sucker so go flog yourself with a wet noodle and then do 50 hail-flying-spaghetti-monster’s in penance. :-P

    Oh, and ted – get over yourself. This IS decent satire and I love the fact that the initial subtlety of it fooled me until almost the end.

    Link to this
  5. 5. PatriciaSchwarz 5:38 pm 09/30/2013

    In another surprise announcement, the Nobel Prize in Medicine will be awarded to marijuana.

    Link to this
  6. 6. M Tucker 7:32 pm 09/30/2013

    “A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations.”

    I am surprised that sounds believable to anyone. Good satire though.

    Link to this
  7. 7. dana.v 4:19 pm 10/1/2013

    lol.. cute.. next announcement shall be that the Nobel committee decided to sell the higgs boson at the souvenir shop :) )

    Link to this
  8. 8. jon-harrier 5:01 pm 10/1/2013

    So funny. It’s like my doctor taking a few minutes to tell me I have cancer and then saying “Naw, just messin’ with you. It’s benign.” Yeah, there’s nothing I like more than being made to feel stupid. Especially being tricked by a trusted “scientific” publication – priceless.

    You could have had the joke in the 1st paragraph, made the point, and then written a serious article. Instead you beat it death.

    My choices are to 1) read the end of every SA article to make sure it’s not satire; or 2) not read SA anymore. For me it’s (2), [try 2]

    Link to this
  9. 9. Blarg2 8:38 am 10/2/2013

    Terrible. The editor who approved this should be put on probation for stupidity and harming the Scientific American brand.

    When I first saw this article cited in another location AS FACT I thought, “That sounds strange,” and clicked over to read it. When I arrived at the site I read the first two paragraphs and then scrolled back up to confirm that this really was SciAm’s official blog and that it was for real and not satire.

    Seeing nothing to suggest satire, I then scrolled through three full screens while reading six long paragraphs. Eventually I had enough and left the site.

    It was only later that I would learn the hard way that the blog post was fake and that I’d harmed my own credibility by reporting to others what I believed to be fact.

    Way to give your subscribers the middle finger, Scientific American.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Rikpar44 12:46 am 10/4/2013

    Sorry Girish, there is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics. Poor old Pi is even eligible for the Fields Medal, because it’s well over 40 years of age

    Link to this
  11. 11. Rikpar44 12:49 am 10/4/2013

    Whoops! Left out the important word “not” – Pi is not even eligible.

    Link to this
  12. 12. christinaak 9:32 am 10/4/2013

    The biggest joke is on the Physicists who actually believe that the Higgs has been found. Moreover, the irony is that there will be no Nobel Prize awarded for the so-called discovery of the Higgs (since it has not actually been discovered). Thank goodness the Nobel committee is patient, and does not rush to award prizes. An premature award could prove embarrassing.

    Link to this
  13. 13. patrick 4:00 am 10/5/2013

    Ref: 12. Dr.Christinaak. I appreciate your intelligent remark,well commented. Reflect with a deep thought and wisdom, the so-called discovery of the Higgs (since it has not actually been discovered),requires the following pre-condition’s:
    a) The Einstein field equations relate local properties of the curvature to a certain fixed time at a fixed location where the “Geometro-dynamical Energy Convergence of INERTA GRAVITY”,explicitly during time reversal using the Celestial Bodies matter content’s angular momentum symmetrisation in spacetime.

    By themselves they do not restrict the global properties of the space, allowing a universe with a given local geometry to have various global topologies and convergence “TORQUE”s, which include ” Gravitational interactions and the Graviton/Higgs Boson.

    Link to this
  14. 14. CantorDust 5:35 am 10/6/2013

    @christnaak yeah, like the peace prize they awarded to Obama

    Link to this
  15. 15. Amrit 12:48 pm 10/7/2013

    Yes, Higgs boson was discovered. This is Ok. But Higgs boson is a particle like any other particle, it is not and it cannot be responsible for the mass of other particles. More than that: Who or what gives the mass to the Higgs boson itself ?”.
    In my opinion inertial mass and gravitational mass have origin in the diminshed energy density of 3D quantum vacuum which is caused by the presence of a given particle or massive object. This model works from the scale of the photon to the galayx.
    However my gratulation to the Nobel winner for discovery of Higgs boson.

    Link to this
  16. 16. christinaak 4:43 pm 10/10/2013

    I stand corrected. The Nobel committee has acted hastily and awarded the Nobel prize for the alleged discovery of the Higgs boson. This is going to be very embarrassing for the committee when it is eventually determined that what has been discovered is not the Higgs.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Leonov 11:57 am 10/11/2013

    I stand corrected also. Yes, the Nobel committee has acted hastily. Higgs boson does not exist in nature:
    1. Higgs contradicts the theory of Einstein gravitation. If the Higgs boson is responsible for the formation of particle masses, he is responsible for creating the gravitational field. But the gravitational field arises from the curvature of space-time as Einstein taught us. Why it was necessary to introduce the Higgs field, when for the formation of gravity and mass of the particles is responsible the Einstein field?
    2. Higgs boson does not have the electromagnetic properties. He cannot unite gravity and electromagnetism. This is contrary to Einstein’s concept of unification of fundamental interactions.
    3. Higgs boson is not a particle of time, and it does not have wave properties. He is not fit into the theory of quantum gravity.
    4. Higgs boson is not the particle of space and space-time. He is not responsible for the creation of gravity and mass.
    Thus, the Higgs boson is a hypothetical particle and it does not really exist because it contradicts Einstein’s theory.
    The nature of the formation of mass was first discovered by Russian scientist Vladimir Leonov in 1996, and not by Professor Higgs:
    Leonov V. S. Quantum Energetics. Volume 1. Theory of Superunification. Cambridge International Science Publishing, 2010, 745 pages.
    Chapter 3. Unification of electromagnetism and gravitation (pages 167-261)
    3.5.1. Formation of mass (pages 218-219)
    Professor Higgs stole the prize from the author of the theory of Superunification

    Link to this
  18. 18. rodney1956 2:29 am 10/14/2013

    No disrespect to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs, but “Albert Einstein Deserves Nobel Prize in Physics 2013″ – (here’s the abstract):

    “François Englert and Peter W. Higgs are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass. In 1964, they proposed the theory independently of each other (Englert together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout). In 2012, their ideas were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland.” – email from “Elsevier Physics” received on October 11, 2013

    François Englert and Peter W. Higgs deserve recognition for their work on the Higgs field and Higgs particle. In my opinion however, CERN has only confirmed the particle’s existence, not that it plays a role in the acquiring of mass. Albert Einstein deserves the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass, as well as laying the foundations for solving modern-day mysteries. Of course, this is impossible for two reasons – 1) the Prize is only awarded to living people, and 2) just as scientists regarded him as “out of touch with science” in the last 30 years of his life, modern scientists still regard him as out of touch when they (unknowingly) fail to understand him. The following article of mine being considered by the journal “Nature” gives the reasons I believe he deserves the Nobel.

    The inspiration for this article was an article called “Starting Point” by Steve Nadis – Discover Magazine, September 2013. “Starting Point” is about the life and theories of Ukrainian cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin. He’s responsible for introducing the ideas of eternal inflation and quantum creation of the universe from a quantum vacuum, and is currently Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University near Boston in the U.S. My article concedes that the idea of quantum fluctuation in a vacuum is valid because those fluctuations can be defined as “the temporary change in the amount of energy at a point in space”. This temporary change can be enabled by the binary digits of 1 and 0 fluctuating between states and thus serving as Virtual Particles. This causes the universe to have its creation not in a quantum vacuum as an exclusively linear concept of time would require, but in a nonlinear aspect of time with the binary digits originating in human computer technology. Ensuing solutions of cosmological puzzles from this proposal refer to the subheadings
    “Digital” String Theory;
    Poincare + Cosmic Strings, Wormholes And Hologram;
    Steady State Universe, Big Bang Subuniverses And DNA’s Double Helix;
    Newtonian / Einsteinian Space-Time Warping;
    Cosmic Rays, Ultra-High-Energy Cosmic Rays & Today’s Speed Of Light;
    Electronic Infinity;
    Interstellar And Intergalactic Travel;
    c^2 And The Atomic Nucleus;
    Dark Energy And Fractal Geometry;
    Dark Matter.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article