Monday, May 16, 2005

Nobel prize politics

The conference started off really strongly today. 2005 is the world year of physics because it has been 100 years since Einstein published his 3 groundbreaking papers on relativity theory, the photoelectric effect and Brownian motion. As such there are several events worldwide that honor him, and one of them is this year's PAC. I liked all the opening talks: after the chair and the Governor of Tennessee spoke, it was Ms Cecilia Jarlskog. She is actually inside the Nobel Prize committee, and mentioned a couple of interesting things.

First, she had the most weird slides I have ever seen ever. Handwritten, with flowers and shapes and cute colorful letters everywhere and simple concepts. She said that it takes at least 50 years before the nominations of a Nobel prize are revealed. The way this works is that various people send secret letters to the committee explaining who they think deserves the prize and why. However the winner is determined by the committee and not by the most votes - Henry Poincare got dozens of nominations but Van der Waals won having only 1... Keep in mind that there are positive votes as well as negative.

With regard to Einstein , we saw documents that he was first nominated in 1909 with only one vote for relativity theory - but of course back then the committee couldn't award a prize to a clerk in a patent office! In the next years he kept being nominated each year again and again by more and more people, especially after the proof of his general theory of relativity in 1919. In 1922 he finally won when he got about 20+ nominations and only one guy voted negatively, the winner of the very first Nobel Prize, Mr X-Ray, Conrad Roentgen.