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Nobel Prize in Physics to particle theorists! October 7, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.

Breaking news: Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi, and Toshihide Maskawa win the nobel prize in Physics. I will have something more to say about this in a little while…

Here is the committee who chose the laureates this year:

  • Joseph Nordgren (Chairman), Professor of Soft X-ray Physics
  • Lars Bergström (Secretary), Professor of Theoretical Physics
  • Lars Brink, Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics (Member)
  • Börje Johansson (Member), Professor of Condensed Matter Physics
  • Björn Jonson (Member), Professor of Fundamental Physics
  • Ingemar Lundström (Member), Professor of Applied Physics

A bit too many Bjorns and Larses for my taste, but they made a good choice. I wonder why Nicola Cabibbo was left out of the package though. Cabibbo initiated a decade earlier what Kobayashi and Maskawa completed in 1971, when he invented his angle \theta_c to describe the mixing of down-type d and s quarks, explaining much of the phenomenology of weak decays.

UPDATE: concerning the question, also mentioned in the comments thread below, of whether Cabibbo deserved to be part of the trio, here is what Roberto Petronzio, president of the INFN – the italian institute for subnuclear physics – has to say:

“I am glad that the Nobel prize has been given to this sector of Physics which is earning more and more attention throughout the world and from which we expect fundamental discoveries which will increase our knowledge of the Universe. However, I cannot hide that this particular choice fills me with bitterness: Kobayashi and Maskawa have as only merit the generalization, and a simple one at that, of a central idea whose paternity is to be attributed to the italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo, who autonomously and pioneering understood the mechanism of quark mixing, then easily generalized by the two prize winners. The contribution of Nambu, however, is fundamental for particle physics and his works on spontaneous symmetry breaking are one of the pillars of the present Standard Model”.

Originally: “Sono lieto che il premio Nobel sia stato attribuito a questo settore della fisica che sta avendo sempre più attenzione da tutto il mondo e dal quale ci aspettiamo fondamentali scoperte che aumenteranno la nostra comprensione sull’Universo. Tuttavia, non posso nascondere che questa particolare attribuzione mi riempie di amarezza: Kobayashi e Maskawa hanno come unico merito la generalizzazione, per altro semplice, di un’idea centrale la cui paternità è da attribuire al fisico italiano Nicola Cabibbo che, in modo autonomo e pionieristico, ha compreso il meccanismo del fenomeno del mescolamento dei quark, poi facilmente generalizzato dai due fisici premiati. Il contributo di Nambu, d’altra parte, è fondamentale per la fisica delle particelle e i suoi lavori sulla rottura spontanea di simmetria sono uno dei pilastri dell’attuale Modello Standard.”

I agree with Petronzio, although I do not consider Kobayashi’s and Maskawa’s contribution just a “simple generalization”. Their intuition was very important indeed. But Cabibbo’s idea was really the foundation of the whole idea of quark mixing.

UPDATE: one more note.

If you search for papers by Nambu in the Spires archive, you might be tempted to look at his most cited ones. You then get the following list (other papers got less than 1000 citations):

1) Dynamical Model of Elementary Particles Based on an Analogy with Superconductivity. 1.
Yoichiro Nambu, G. Jona-Lasinio (Chicago U., EFI) . 1961.
Published in Phys.Rev.122:345-358,1961.

TOPCITE = 2000+

2) Dynamical Model Of Elementary Particles Based On An Analogy With Superconductivity. Ii.
Yoichiro Nambu, G. Jona-Lasinio (Chicago U., EFI) . 1961.
Published in Phys.Rev.124:246-254,1961.

TOPCITE = 1000+

A colleague of mine in Padova notes that Jona-Lasinio might have something to say about this year’s choice of Nobel prizes!


1. helvio - October 7, 2008

Well, I see the prize for Kobayashi and Maskawa as being given for the suggestion of existence of a 3rd family, as well as the CP symmetry breaking. Cabbibo only considered the Nf=2 case, which was experimentally established by then, but suggesting a 3rd family was a bold step in the dark that was later confirmed experimentally. And I think that’s the philosophy of the Nobel prize in physics, awarding steps into unknown territory that later prove to be consistent with experiment, no? Cabbibo work was seminal, but not as “revolutionary” as KM’s.

2. Haelfix - October 7, 2008

Its not entirely clear to me why Goldstone isn’t a recipient. Nambu obviously did additional work, but still…

3. Guess Who - October 7, 2008

Admittedly, I underestimated the power of Ms. Carlucci: https://dorigo.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/on-the-supremacy-of-us-over-europe-in-hep/#comment-99061

Don’t mess with that lady if you want a Nobel prize. She’s scary! 😉

I second the feelings about an excess of Bjorns and Larses in the committee.

4. dorigo - October 7, 2008

Helvio, I totally disagree. Cabibbo’s idea was the foundation on which K and M built the case for CP violation. Theirs was an extension of a formalism. They surely deserve the Nobel prize, but not giving it to Cabibbo at the same time is a real faux pas. There are probably political manouvers behind this decision. A. Z. is said in the corridors of my dept. to have been preventing the recognition to Cabibbo.

And please, learn to spell Nicola’s last name correctly, for god’s sake 😉


PS edited according to Andrea’s suggestion below…

5. dorigo - October 7, 2008

Haelfix, Nambu did a lot too. Sure… One can play the game “why not him then…” forever. Still, since in the HEP community the names of K. and M. are usually connected to that of Cabibbo, giving the prize to a third person _not_ Cabibbo together with K and M does say something.


6. Andrea Giammanco - October 7, 2008

> Xxx Yyy is said in the corridors of my dept. to have been preventing the recognition to Cabibbo.

*ahem*, just a suggestion: this is the kind of comment that can put you in trouble. (Technically, it is defamation.)
The situation could be much worse than the worst that you experienced so far (i.e., being frowned upon by people in high ranks), since it could involve lawyers.

Of course probability is 99% that nothing unpleasant will ever happen, but the remaining 1% is annoying enough, isn’t it?

7. DB - October 7, 2008

Certainly is a little strange to leave Cabibbo out. And Goldstone too (Nambu gets half the prize, the other two share the other half).

I’m looking forward to hearing more about any Zichichi involvement. I would have thought Cabibbo and him would be buddies, seeing as they both sit at the right hand of the Pontiff.

8. anomalous cowherd - October 7, 2008

While I agree with all of those awarded, I am shocked at who is left out. I think the Nobel committee should have awarded 2 separate years’ prizes, to do justice to all involved.

I’m really disappointed that Cabibbo did not receive the prize along with Kobayashi and Maskawa. Cabibbo had the original insight to understand that mass eigenstates and weak interaction eigenstates were different objects in the quark sector; Kobayashi and Maskawa built on his idea with the realization that in the three generation case a mixing matrix of the Cabbibo type could not have all its phases removed by field redefinition, and hence would include CP violation.

The prize for Nambu is tremendously overdue. Not only did he initiate the study of spontaneously broken continuous symmetries in relativistic field theories [the “Nambu-Goldstone” mode of symmetry realization], in his seminal papers with Jona-Lasinio [independently discovered by Goldstone], he also wrote the first paper correctly explaining the role of local gauge invariance in theories with spontaneously broken symmetry [what is now known as the “Higgs mechanism”] in his paper “Quasi-particles and gauge invariance in the theory of super-conductivity”
[Phys.Rev. 117 (1960) p. 648-663].

In addition to that Nambu:
-used the measured electromagnetic form factors of the nucleons to predict the existence of the rho meson, before its discovery.
-was one of the first authors to introduce colour in quark models to solve the statistics problem [the Han-Nambu integrally charged couloured quarks].
-realized that dual resonance models actually described the excitations of a relativistic string, and wrote down a covariant action to describe the dynamics [the Nambu-Goto action]. Perhaps more than anyone else he deserves the credit for converting dual models of the Veneziano type into the modern theory we call string theory, though he is far too modest to claim the credit that he deserves.
– realized that dual Abrikosov-Nielsen-Olsen vortices in QCD would result in a “flux-tube” confinement mechanism for quarks, a picture that underlies the lattice QCD understanding of confinement and the Lund model of jet hadronization.

In short, he is one of the greatest living theoretical physicists, and one of the most decent. This prize is long, long, overdue.

9. David Heffernan - October 7, 2008

Kobayashi, not Kobajashi. A little ironic given your comment above admonishing helvio to “please, learn to spell Nicola’s last name correctly, for god’s sake.”

Still, Kobayashi and Maskawa have been overdue for the prize for the last few years. I think this is great for particle physics, especially as the Belle and BaBar experiments are in their final stages, and it will be a while before the world gets its next high luminosity flavor factory.

10. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

I completely agree with Helvio: the work of the recipients was more revolutionary because it actually connected the existence (or breaking) of symmetries with essential features of the world (such as the existence of light scalars or the very matter-antimatter asymmetry).

The committee must present simple enough explanations for the awards which they did. But in reality, it is clear that all the recipients are awarded pretty much for everything they did. Nambu, as a co-father of string theory and the first person to propose (QCD) color and explain confinement by vortex-like fluxtubes, clearly deserves it.

Kobayashi and Maskawa had to do mathematically nontrivial work including SU(3) matrices and the result is a link between the number of generations and CP-violation, a necessary assumption for the matter-antimatter asymmetry (and the survival of matter in the Universe). So they arguably did more important piece of work than Cabibbo did before them. They’re similar matrices of different size but the prize is not given for matrices but for revolutionary realizations.

Tommaso, the link between Cabibbo on one side and Kobayashi & Maskawa on the other is mostly linguistic. They didn’t work together. They generalized his angle but the impact of their work – CP-violation vs number of families – is their own.

The committee arguably stores the name of Goldstone for a possible Nobel prize that will have to be given away once the Higgs boson is discovered.

11. tomate :: :: October :: 2008 - October 7, 2008

[…] tutti ne parlano [qui][qui], per cui non posso stare zitto. Quest’anno il premio Nobel ha sfiorato l’Italia, […]

12. goffredo - October 7, 2008

oh well
the swedes are human and hence are not perfect so it is not worth getting worked up too much about this. Personally I would have liked the prize to be given to Cabibbo and Nambu: Cabibbo for doing fundamental work to getting weak interaction right and setting the statge and to Nambu for a remarkable carrier.


p.s. At least the science nobel prizes can trigger good discussions on science and history of science and injustices, due to biases or pressures, or bullseyes can be somewhat objectively analyzed and graded by scientists competent in the field. That cann’t be said of nobel prizes for peace and literature.

13. Guess Who - October 7, 2008

Lubos, the mathematically nontrivial work of the CKM matrix, i.e. the biunitary diagonalization of a generic complex matrix, was actually done in

C. Eckrat, G. Young (1939), Bull. Am. Math. Soc. 45,

The link between number of generations and CP violation, i.e. the lowest matrix size for which a complex phase remains, follows directly from this work: a unitary NxN matrix has (N-1)(N-2)/2 of them, so if you want CP violation, you need N>2.

Also, the requirement of CP violation for baryogenesis is one of Sakharov’s conditions from 1967 (the other two are departure from thermal equilibrium and – obviously – non-conservation of baryon number) not an insight due to K&M, and the amount of CP violation produced by the CKM matrix is generally considered too small anyway.

So as far as I can see the important insight in the CKM context was Cabibbo’s, and as Dorigo says, K&M just extended it using results which were in the matrix algebra literature since 1939.

14. Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » 2008 Physics Nobel Prize - October 7, 2008

[…] of other blogs are also covering this. Tommaso Dorigo points out that it’s a bit anomalous that a Nobel Prize for the CKM […]

15. dorigo - October 7, 2008

David, thanks… corrected. I am not superhuman, it seems :-/


16. Chris Oakley - October 7, 2008

Nambu … ? Why not Goldstone, Higgs, etc. … ?

Wouldn’t it have been better to wait a year to see what comes out of the LHC !?

And as for K and M from the CKM matrix, surely Cabibbo was the important one! I suppose at least all of that is experimentally verified.

17. Guess Who - October 7, 2008

Of course, I just had to screw up the reference… it should be

C. Eckart, G. Young (1939), Bull. Am. Math. Soc. 45, 118-121

and is available online at the AMS site:


(Of course, the spam filter will eat this post too unless I write something more. I don’t particularly feel like writing anything more, and there is no particular reason to read the rest of this post if you are human. But if you are a stupid spambot, then by all means read on, making sure to increment your running word count as you go along. This way you will hopefully find an acceptably low ratio of number of links to words, as defined by some arbitrary threshold set by some WordPress geek who really should know better, and let this post through. Or not. Hey, WordPress geeks, how about adding a whitelist for links back to the same blog and to topical sites, like the Arxiv and various journals?)

18. Jimbo - October 7, 2008

No question, Cabbibo got the shaft !
Similar to George Zwieg (over Gell-Mann) for quarks and
Ernst Stuckelberg (over Feynman). Other famous
exclusions were George Gamov’s prediction of the CMB, and Freeman Dyson’s work in unifying QED.
Whoever said life was fair ?

19. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

Guess Who, the mathematical reference of yours is interesting but your interpretation is analogous to the statement that the mathematically nontrivial part of general relativity was done by Riemann or the mathematically nontrivial part of the RNS superstring was done by Jacobi. 😉

What’s revolutionary and worth the Nobel prize is not the mathematical exercise itself but the discovery of its relevance for physics. The more abstract and complicated mathematical structure finds its perfect place in natural science, the bigger discovery we deal with.

Please, someone should explain to the deeply confused commenter #15 that the discoveries appreciated today have nothing whatsoever with the LHC. It’s just terrible that the Internet is the reproduction camp for similar conspiracy theorists and nuts in general.

Jimbo #17, life is perhaps not fair but the suggestion that Zweig is in the same league as Gell-Mann or Stuckelberg is in the same league as Feynman is utterly absurd. Have you actually sometimes looked at their contributions to physics? Try scholar.google.com and type their names in quotes and compare. Freeman Dyson would be somewhere in between.

20. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

Dear Guess Who #12,

I forgot one point. Yes, I agree with the CP comments of yours. There exists other work. But in comparison, there is nothing wrong about their choice today. Sakharov may have deserved it as well – he’s already dead now – but he was always in an obvious disadvantage for the physics Nobel prize because he received the 1975 peace prize – before it was completely discredited (which is pretty recent).

The CKM CP-odd angle is perhaps not enough to create the baryon-antibaryon asymmetry but it is also the only experimentally verified “proof of the concept” as of today, isn’t it? CP-violation has already been established, it is pretty important, and is there someone better around to award for that? In 1957, Lee and Yang got for the normal parity and I find these types of Nobel prizes very memorable.

And once again, I think that this award should not be for isolated contributions which is another reason why NKM are better choices than Cabibbo.


21. Nobel for symmetry breaking « Antimatter - October 7, 2008

[…] For a more technical discussion of the issues above, see blogs such as  Symmetry Factor and Not Even Wrong.  An important point being made is that the third (and original) musketeer of the Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa matrix was overlooked – Cabibbo is yet another victim of the silly Nobel rule that the prize can only be awarded to three. There is also a good discussion of this on T. Dorigo’s blog  A Quantum Diaries Survivor […]

22. Anonymous - October 7, 2008

Lubos — NKM? Are you suggesting maybe Cabibbo should be erased out of all photographs and replaced with a shrub, like the Soviets used to do? 😉

23. Guess Who - October 7, 2008

Hi Lubos #18. Let’s compare Riemann->Einstein and Eckart+Young->Kobayashi+Maskawa then.

Einstein first had an original physical insight (spacetime), then he adopted an existing mathematical framework (Riemannian manifolds) to describe it. That was only part of it; he still had to come up with the Einstein equations. So he also built something uniquely his own on top of the existing mathematical framework.

K&M did not have the insight that gauge and mass eigenstates need not coincide. As anomalous cowherd says, they got that from Cabibbo. All they did was extend it to more generations. Like Einstein, they used an existing mathematical framework, but unlike EInstein, they added nothing to it. All they needed had already been done.

A possible “explanation” as to why Cabibbo was not awarded is on page 9 of the “scientific background” document for the prize: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2008/sci.html

It’s a strange couple of paragraphs which start by saying that “Nicola Cabibbo [67] in 1963 made a very important contribution” and then go on to explain that “He took as his starting point three assumption from Gell-Mann’s earlier work”. The reader is left with the impression that he really just reparametrized something Gell-Mann and Levy had already done (so what was his “very important contribution” then?), something which I rather doubt most physicists would agree with.

It gets really weird when the same document goes on to claim that the existence of a complex phase for N=3 was “a result known in mathematics since around 1950” (page 12 in the PDF). The only possible conclusion is that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences did not even know about the 1939 paper by Eckart and Young. Well, I hope somebody will tell them about it now.

As a general consideration, it strikes me as very unfortunate that these decisions are ultimately made by just six people from a very small and peripheral country. I think we can agree that with just one arguable exception, none of the six committe members is anything like an international heavyweight in theoretical physics.

Institutions in small, peripheral countries are of course free to give whatever awards they want to whomever they choose, but maybe the rest of us should give a second thought to the relevance of their decisions.

24. buffalo chip - October 7, 2008

Well, I find it odd that Nambu got the award… there have been so many theoretical awards for the Standard Model, enough!

KM is a bit different… their work really led the way for future important subsequent experiments, which all verified their insight.

25. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

Dear Anonymous #21,

the term “CKM matrix” is not based neither on a unified physical principle not a common work of the three authors. It’s just a name. People are used to say these three letters together but it doesn’t mean that they forever belong to each other and that the Nobel commitee should think that they belong to each other. It is only you and other ill-informed people who are proposing that CKM should always have statues together, much like Marx, Engels, and Lenin.

But they have nothing to do with each other except that they worked on related problems.

I was not proposing for the matrix to be renamed to NKM matrix because Nambu doesn’t have much to do with it. But I was certainly suggesting that it is NKM and not CKM who got the Nobel prize – because the Nobel committee actually understands the contributions, especially Nambu’s, more than you do – and I think that it would be a good idea for you to accept this reality.


26. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

Dear Guess Who #22,

I think that you first decided what the big conclusions of your arguments should be and then you completed the details – in a biased way – to fit your goals. A person who would decide to diminish Einstein’s results could write a similar anti-Einstein rant about relativity, too. Let me show how it might look like:

Einstein never had any original insight about spacetime. It was Hendrik Lorentz who showed that the vacuum is empty and only contains one electric and one magnetic vector at each point. Moreover, the very concept of “spacetime” as a unified four-dimensional geometry wasn’t invented by Einstein but by Hermann Minkowski in 1908. Hermann Minkowski considered Einstein to be just a lazy dog. 😉

So Einstein didn’t really work with spacetime in 1905. So what did he do? He only extended the symmetry of Galileo Galilei to the case of higher velocities. He needed newer transformations that nonlinearly depended on velocity. However, he didn’t invent these transformations, either. They were written down by Lorentz who realized that they were symmetries of Maxwell’s equations.

So he only said that the well-known coordinate transformations of Lorentz applied not only to the important case of fields – electromagnetism – but also to the case of mechanics. But there were no new transformations. All that Einstein needed had already been done.

This combination of mechanics with Lorentz transformations leads to some new, unusual insights and predictions, but because you discard the results of the work by KM such as the CP-violation, I will obviously discard results such as the mass-energy equivalence, too.

Let me not continue with this particular line of interpretations (that I could easily extend to GR) because I think that the point is clear. Big physicists stand on shoulders of giants which doesn’t mean that their contribution is zero.

And yes, the Scandinavian guys correctly say that the qualitative physical insight about the mixing was a combination of patterns seen by nearly everyone from the experiments – power laws for amplitudes as a function of violation of strangeness – and the concept of strangeness invented by Murray Gell-Mann.

Once again, I think that the Eckart-Young paper is completely irrelevant for this discussion because it is a purely mathematical paper that cannot have, by definition, anything to do directly with the real world. And if formulated accurately, it is a nearly trivial exercise, anyway. What’s nontrivial is to find out that exactly this exercise is relevant for physics and to complete the whole chain of physical arguments.

I agree that the committee is not composed of the biggest “heavyweights” – it is questionable whether anyone of this category exists in Scandinavia at all – but I also disagree with your implicit statement that one has to be among top 10 world’s physicist to make a good choice of Nobel prize winners. To avoid idiosyncrasies, it is better if the committee represents the top 500 physicists or so, and it arguably does.

In comparison with many other awards, the scientific Nobel prizes – and especially those for physics – have been extraordinarily meaningful and had a huge success rate in rewarding the people who really deserved it and in avoiding winners who would be revealed as catastrophes in the future. I think that there are very good reasons why the physics Nobel prize is more prestigious than random writings on blogs by people who are not heavyweights either.


27. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

Dear buffalo chip #23,

all phenomena that have been observed in Nature as of 2008 (with the exception of dark matter) are either manifestations of the Standard Model (with neutrino masses included) or general relativity. Because only observationally confirmed results are awarded by this prize, any rewarded result must inevitably be an aspect of general relativity or the Standard Model.

If you’re waiting for the prize for phenomena that are neither “in” GR nor “in” SM, you will be disappointed because they don’t exist in 2008.

But there are many aspects of these theories, especially in the case of the Standard Model. What Nambu is appreciated for are not some particular technicalities explaining one particular graph extracted from some experiment, but very conceptual results that are crucial not only in specific contexts in the nuclear world – chiral symmetry breaking and pions – but also in many other contexts – all beyond-the-Standard-Model builders must know these things in detail because they re-appear over and over again.

Nambu’s work that was recognized is simply of a very different character than the prizes given so far. It is very conceptual, theoretical in essence.

And of course, there are all the other results by Nambu that are not explicitly mentioned but that made it possible for him to be the “main” winner in 2008. He co-created the concept of color in QCD, qualitatively explained confinement by fluxtubes with the vortices inside, and, most importantly (and it is actually related to the previous item), he is one of three godfathers of string theory (who found out that the amplitudes result from a relativistic string) which is the most important program in theoretical physics in the last 40 years among those that haven’t been “essentially” completed.


28. dorigo - October 7, 2008

Hi all,

while I read with interest all the comments in this thread, I am presently unable to contribute meaningfully to it -leaving at 6am tomorrow morning for Chicago. Thanks anyways to all who contributed to making it interesting… I will read you with more care as I sit on the Scientific Coordinator chair in the CDF control room two days from now, with nothing to do but contemplating my fingers.


29. buffalo chip - October 7, 2008

Dear Lubos #26,

Sure, but the Standard Model was not accepted in a nanosecond; it actually took years of rather innovative and high-risk experimentation to nail it down. In hindsight, it may look all tidy, but in 1975 or so it did not. Even in 1990 it did not fully convince.

For example there were a lot of atomic parity violation experiments in the 1970’s that gave conflicting results, and led many to doubt the Z0. Prescott’s experiment really helped clarify that, and of course later the SPPS (UA1 and UA2) nailed it.

It was not at all clear that KM described CP violation in the K0 system, but the long B life and the heavy top allowed KM to do so. Those were great experimental results.

Sure, one Nobel for the basic structure of the Standard model would be appropriate. But we’re up to 2.5 now. (Not including Ken Wilson and Gross, Wilcek, Pollitzer). Any more (Goldstone, Higgs) seems to me excessive.

We don’t really know that Dark Matter is outside the Standard Model yet; actually, there is a little evidence the Dark Matter knows about the weak interaction. But if it turns out to be in the Standard Model, it will be very interesting.

all the best, buff

30. Luboš Motl - October 7, 2008

Dear Buff #28,

thanks for your ideas. I agree with you that the Standard Model took a lot of innovative work even though doubts about the validity of the Standard Model as late as 1990 look a bit excessive to me. Also, I think that Nambu’s ideas were a bit more innovative than the CKM matrix and it’s fine that he receives as the two other guys combined.

However, I think it is pretty much a truism that Nobel prizes for sufficiently fundamental physics will continue to be for the Standard Model up to the moment when this model will be empirically replaced by something else such as MSSM or string theory.

Only then a period of Nobel prizes for completely new things can start: many people are already in the waiting line today. But until it happens, the Nobel prizes have to probe more detailed work – and perhaps less revolutionary work – connected with the Standard Model.

This prediction is pretty much a truism and it applies to most other subdisciplines, too. For example, pretty much every new Nobel prize in optics has to be related to work with lasers because they became similarly important for optics as the Standard Model is for fundamental particle physics.

When you remove Gross, Wilczek (spelling!), Politzer (spelling!) from the Standard Model, guys who constructed 1/2 of what I call the Standard Model ;-), does it mean that you only talk about the electroweak theory? Is the CKM matrix a part of the electroweak theory for you?

I think that there exists extremely strong evidence that dark matter can’t be a part of the Standard Model. Moreover, I also disagree with you that it would be more interesting for dark matter to be a part of the Standard Model. Even if we found a mistake and if it were a part, why would it be more interesting than a new particle such as neutralino? I think that a neutralino is both more likely and more interesting a dark particle than a bound state of the Standard Model.

All the best

31. Credit Crunch - October 7, 2008

Dear Lubos,

Do you have a job? Or are you working at an internet cafe these days?

32. Kea - October 7, 2008

Maybe they thought Nicola was a woman.

33. Guess Who - October 7, 2008

Well Lubos, I guess most interested readers can reach their own conclusions on the scientific merits.

There may be a little more meat in the issue of how representative the Nobel prize actually is. You say “it is better if the committee represents the top 500 physicists or so, and it arguably does”. But sqrt(500) = 22.4, so on statistical grounds alone, a committe of 6 would be insufficient.

The selection process is described here: http://nobelprize.org/nomination/physics/process.html

Nominations are collected from a broad enough base, but the 6-person committee starts exerting its influence already at the next stage, the selection of experts called upon to assess the candidates. The experts selected by the committee then report back to the committe, which then writes a report and submits its recommendations to the academy. I think it’s safe to assume that the committe’s report supports the committe’s recommendations.

The academy then holds a majority vote. In physics, the votes are cast by these gentlepersons: http://www.kva.se/KVA_Root/eng/contact/classes/physics.asp

Even trying to be maximally generous, I count less than ten theorists in that list (including of course members of the 6-person committee which issues report and recommendations). Only a few of them would be widely recognized outside Scandinavia.

So no, Nobel prizes in theoretical physics do not seem to be particularly representative of anything beyond the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, such as it is.

34. tulpoeid - October 7, 2008

Extremely informative discussion, I follow it with great interest. On a more provocative note, Lubos I agree with almost every word of yours, even with this passage:

“In comparison with many other awards, the scientific Nobel prizes – and especially those for physics – have been extraordinarily meaningful and had a huge success rate in rewarding the people who really deserved it and in avoiding winners who would be revealed as catastrophes in the future.”

But then, why should we be happy to consider Nambu’s contribution to strings leading to him getting the prize? I hope it’s not like that…

35. Physics Nobels « Peculiar Velocity - October 7, 2008

[…] Cabibbo. For some entertaining wild speculation about politics and motivation, see the comments on this post by Thomasio […]

36. Guess Who - October 7, 2008

P.S. Representative or not, I’m glad they gave a gold medal to Nambu, at long last.

37. Ken - October 7, 2008

Dear Lubos,

Thanks for the insightful comments. I really enjoyed them.

38. buffalo chip - October 8, 2008

Dear Lubos #30,

It was not really proven by 1990 that CP violation was actually part of the Standard Model; except for the NA31 work on direct CP violation, which actually did turn out to be right. The Superweak description of CP violation in neutral kaons was a bit more elegant, and would have been outside of the Standard Model.

The Wilczek, Gross, Politzer work (thanks for the spelling) is of course of crucial importance, but stands on it own without the spontaneous symmetry breaking aspect of electroweak theory. The theory of the electroweak portion does seem to me to be over-awarded, IMHO.

Now it remains a mystery why QCD’s CP violation is absent (well, unless and until an electric dipole moment gets measured). If there is a non-zero electric dipole moment, is that inside the SM or not?

But even though KM’s phase was mathematically on the trivial side, physically it is right. That no QCD CP violation nor any axion has been found shows how important it is to be right.

As for the dark matter, a neutralino would be great but the Standard Model will have to be extremely devious to provide the dark matter, and that would be interesting, IMHO.

39. Gabibbo - October 8, 2008

“I wonder why Nicola Cabibbo was left out ”

Because they mistook him for me.

40. Alejandro Rivero - October 8, 2008

In fact if the prize were argued to be about postulating a third family, then it is A.Z. himself who had been excluded. On the other hand, it could be this reasonment (the link between between A.Z and the third generation) the only substance of the rumour. On a third hand, it forces the Commitee to argue about CP violation: if they say that the prize is because of the mixing itself, then C must be acknowledged; it they say thar it is because of the third generation, then AZ must be acknowledged. So at the end it is because of CP…

41. Haelfix - October 8, 2008

Yea I suppose a Goldstone, Stuckleberg, Higgs Nobel prize makes good sense. Actually that one is going to be even more controversial, b/c so many additional people had independant say in the creation of the Higgs mechanism. Eg Brout, Anderson, Kibble etc etc

42. Haelfix - October 8, 2008

Err I should say Goldstone, Anderson, Higgs. Stuckleberg being deceased etc.

43. amused - October 8, 2008

Apparently there is quite a variety of processes in nature exhibiting CP violation and it is remarkable that so far, at current levels of accuracy, they can all be accounted for by the single complex phase in the KM matrix. It is quite possible/likely that in the next few years the KM picture will be seen to break down though with theoretical calculations based on high precision lattice results starting to disgree with increasingly precise experimental results from the b-factories and elsewhere. This will signal new physics beyond the SM and be a Nobel-worthy achievement. The awarding of the Nobel prize now for KM paves the way for the future Nobel for the discovery of breakdown of the KM picture that may only be a few years away.

44. tomate - October 8, 2008

Jimbo, let’s add also Faddeev over ‘t Hooft/Veltman, ‘t Hooft over Gross-Wilczek-Politzer, Kadanoff over Wilson; and if Cabibbo had 1/6 of the prize, someone will come up claiming “1/2n th” of the prize, up to Galilei (but surely there’s someone before him too). Nobel prize often goes to the tip of the diamond of research and to those lucky enough to have made the last step. Also theorems in mahematics often bear names which do not make justice of their discovery (Arnold’s law: “The name of the theorem is not the name of the discoverer” Arnold’s second law:”Arnold’s law applies to Arnold’s law”). We might question whether or not it has any sense to assign prizes in science – but surely to input money in the field is in any case not a bad thing – or to give them so much prominence from a social point of view. When a Nobel prize winner speaks, everybody listens to him; not the same with an almost-winner (in Italy neither one, see Rubbia emigrating to Spain). About the Standard Nobel prize, let me question, is really every detail of the SM worthy a prize?

45. Chris Oakley - October 8, 2008


Re your post #19, being a crackpot nut and conspiracy theorist my own opinion can of course be discounted, but you should note that your hero Ed Witten was one of the many sane non-conspiracy-theorists who said that electroweak symmetry breaking is the thing most likely to be clarified by the LHC.


Who was the real discover of Arnold’s second law, then?

46. tomate - October 8, 2008

The answer is in Arnold’s third law.

47. T - October 9, 2008

Hi all,
I don’t want to debase the importance of Kobayashi and Maskawa’s theory… but Cabibbo’s seminal work should worth a Nobel Prize (NP), that’s it.

Unfortunely, with this unassignation, I’m afraid that Cabibbo miss any chance to get the prize in the near future. Consider that
-theoretical SM physics by now is already well covered by NPs
-next turn for another NP in the same specific field could arrive late
– N Cabibbo is >70 years old

48. dorigo - October 9, 2008

My two cents on this thread:

when evaluating the result of this year’s Nobel prize in Physics, we should not forget some political input. About the interferences that might have played a part in excluding Cabibbo, I said already these are quite a real possibility: Cabibbo had been suggested for a long time, and the political implications of giving him a Nobel prize would have been adverse to today’s italian government. Then one also has to remember that Japan is supporting HEP heavily these days, and a recognition of this might have played a part in assigning the prize to japanese theorists.


49. goffredo - October 9, 2008

its Berlusconi’s fault.

50. goffredo - October 9, 2008

By the way, and keep this secret,
Cabibbo is a catholic! Hushhhh
He is also President of the Pontificia Accademia. (Of course to be in the Pontificia Accademia one does not have to be catholic nor christian. Abdus Salam was a cherished member.)

51. Thomas Larsson - October 9, 2008

Tommaso, you don’t seriously think that Italian politics is influencing the physics prize. The committee members are of course human, and the omission of Cabibbo could conceivably be influenced by other factors that pure scientific merit, e.g. personal grudge, although I personally think that this is unlikely. But that the committee would be afraid to irritate Berlusconi is ridiculous. From a swedish perspective, he is simply too irrelevant, and I doubt that few people have even heard about the honorable Carlucci.

Why you think that one Björn is too many – note that Börje is a completely different name. Also, I don’t understand what you have against Lars – I evidently have an ancestor by that name (Lars Nilsson, b 1830).

52. dorigo - October 9, 2008

Hi Thomas,

I think that it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the italian politics is influencing some of the people who advised the nobel search committee. Of course the nobel search committee can laugh at Carlucci, A.Z., Berlusconi, and the whole can of nuts. But in the physics community one of those mentioned is indeed influential.

As for Swedish names, I assume you know the meaning of the word “joke”.


53. goffredo - October 9, 2008

The swedish committee steered left many times and, to me, has never showed right-wing tendencies. To think Berlusconi’s govenrment could pull strings up there in Sweden to sack Cabibbo is, to put it very gently, ridiculous. I am pleased Tommaso does not insist.

But I am then impressed by his shuffle and new attemp to find the italian culprit: he produces a short list of names of people that can influence the physics community, the INTERNATIONAL one of course and ultimately the swedish nobel prize committee?

Berlusconi? (the person, not the head of the government) He could by corruption! He’s got the money… Not impossible. Unlikely.

Carlucci? Carlucci who? Simply impossible.

Antonio Zichichi?! Can A.Z. influence the physics community, the INTERNATIONAL community one, to the point of maneuvering the swedish nobel prize committe into sacking Cabibbo?


54. Thomas Larsson - October 10, 2008

Tommaso, you are still joking when you imply that anyone here cares about Berlusconi, right? He evidently evokes strong feelings in Italy, but surely his power ends at the border. Besides, I imagine that he would be rather pleased with a Nobel to Italy, since some of the glory would, fairly or not, reflect upon the prime minister.

I think the reason why Cabibbo was left out is much simpler. There is rivalry between different physics factions (fundamental vs applied, theory vs experiment, particles vs cosmology vs solid state vs plasma vs …), and it is unlikely that particle physics can get more than one quarter of the prizes. Hence when the next round of particle Nobels are due, results from the LHC will be in, and there might be a whole bunch of new candidates.

55. A.N. Other - October 10, 2008

#23 has it right (read the reference he cites).
However, you would have to agree that a conspiracy involving Berlusconi, Zichichi, the Japanese and the Pope would be far far more entertaining. According to the Swedish Academy,
Cabibbo slightly extended the work of Gell-Mann and Levy.
GIM and the charm quark came later so Cabibbo did not even have a
2 x 2 matrix. Perhaps the Swedes and Gell-Mann underestimate the contribution of Cabibbo; certainly his notation is very widespread and almost universally accepted.

56. physicspet - March 2, 2010

I am not sure how you have an award for Higgs Boson or Mechanism that does not include any of the following (Higgs, Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble, Brout-Englert) …so the next one will be much harder than 2008 decision. All just won Sakurai Prize for this discovery. I guess one solution is to wait – until six is three.

The Sakurai sessions are posted on YouTube.


dorigo - March 6, 2010

Hi pet,

you may have not noticed it, but this site is inactive, I have moved my blog to http://www.scientificblogging.com/quantum_diaries_survivor. Please come join us at the new site.

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