Friday, February 19, 2016

LIGO Discovery And The Nobel Prize

Inevitably, the discussion that follows after the LIGO announcement of the detection of gravitational wave is the Nobel Prize. If there is a sure thing with regard to the Nobel Prize, is that this discovery will get someone this prize.

But just like the issue surrounding the discovery of the Higgs, the question comes up on who should deserve the prize for this discovery. Just like the Higgs, thousands of people were responsible in the work, both theorists and experimentalist. And typically, the Nobel committee will give the award to the individuals who either headed the collaboration, or made the most significant contribution to the physics that led to the discovery.

This news article lists the three most likely individuals who might be the front-runner for the Nobel Prize for this LIGO discovery.

"I think that most of the community would agree that the three pioneers of what became LIGO would be Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever," the head of one of LIGO's observatories in Hanford, Washington, Fred Raab, told Business Insider.

Weiss — who is a professor at MIT's Department of Physics — and Drever — now retired — are both experimentalists who made significant contributions to the concept, design, funding, and eventual construction of LIGO.

On the other hand, Thorne is a theorist, and the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at CalTech. Together with his students, Thorne conducted much of the work on what the detection of a gravitational wave would actually look like and how to identify that signal within the data

Unfortunately, Ronald Drever is in poor health, and the Nobel prize is not awarded posthumously. They may also have missed the deadline for this year's Nobel prize.

The news article discuss on whether the Nobel prize should increase the number of recipient from the maximum of 3 for each prize (outside of the Peace price). I think the change should be more on awarding the prize to deceased individuals. So what if that person is dead? If he/she did make a major enough contribution to warrant a prize, then it should be done. This is especially true for many women scientists who never received their recognition while they were alive back when women were not encouraged or had severe restrictions on their careers as scientists. Posthumous awards can correct these injustices.


1 comment:

coraifeartaigh said...

I think the idea of extending the prize to include posthumous awards is a good one, as the awards can be of great benefit to a laureate's institution, region and country.
However, the media fascination with Nobel prizes borders on the obsession. It seems to be the only mark of quality that the media recognize. I think it would be of great benefit to science if journalists paid attention to other Awards in science, instead of focusing exclusively on one award.