Tuesday, October 07, 2008

2008 Nobel Prize for Physics

The Swedish Academy of Science has awarded this years Physics prize to Nambu, for work on spontaneous symmetry breaking; and to Kobayashi and Maskawa for..well..for the (Cabibbo-)Kobayashi-Maskawa matrix, which describes the mixing of quarks between the strong and weak interactions. All three are hugely deserving of the prize, having worked on some of the most fundamental ideas of the Standard Model.

So, one has to ask: What the fuck!?!? Has the Nobel committees gone completely nuts? First there was yesterday's explicit slap in the face to Robert Gallo, the man acknowledged by a joint Franco-American presidential declaration to be the co-discoverer of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus HIV. He excluded from the award, while the two French co-discoverers were cited From what I gather from news reports, while Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi indeed first published the HIV discovery, it was Robert Gallo who really nailed down the connection between HIV and AIDS. The prizes can be shared by up to three people, and while the recognition of Harald zur Hausen for the discovery of the link between HPV and cervical cancer is deserving (my own daughter has gotten the resulting vaccination) could it not have been a separate prize next year, and let this year's prize recognize all three HIV researchers?

But then we have this Physics prize, and where to start? It was Nicola Cabibbo who first introduced the weak mixing angle (it's CALLED the "Cabibbo angle" for cryin; out loud!) and developed the mixing matrix for two generations. Kobayashi and Maskawa extended it to three generations and showed that CP-violation could be incorporated as a phase angle in the matrix. Any sensible committee would have awarded the prize to the three of them and been done with it.

But no, they split the award with Yoichiro Nambu- a great physicist, but one who has toiled in the same fields as Peter Higgs and Jeffery Goldstone (Nambu-Goldstone bosons, anyone?) and for that matter Tom Kibble and Phil Anderson (at least Anderson recieved a Nobel, back in 1977). Why would you give a Nobel Prize to Nambu, citing spontaneous symmetry breaking no less, and not give a prize to Higgs? It is absolutely unbelieveable.

Add to this the recent explicit insult to American literature made a member of the literature selection committee, and you have to wonder if the Swedes have given into a Scandinavian sense of despair and self-loathing, and are purposefully trying to make the prizes less significant.

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