A Nobel effort: The winners and losers in the battle for the top prize

Peter Higgs said that Tom Kibble, his erstwhile competitor at Imperial College in London, should have been awarded a share of his prize

Peter Higgs must be one of the most modest members of that elite club of scientists known as Nobel Laureates. He often refers to the Higgs boson, the subatomic particle that gives mass to matter, as simply "the particle that bears my name". And now he says that another scientist should have shared the prize with him.

Earlier this week at the opening of Collider, the Science Museum's exhibition in London on the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Geneva, Higgs cemented his reputation as one of the nicest men in science by saying that it was a pity that Tom Kibble, his erstwhile competitor at Imperial College in London, was not awarded a share of the prize with him and François Englert, of the Free University of Brussels.

"His role was important and I think it's perhaps a shame that he's been missed out," said Higgs, who added that he is due to meet Kibble in a couple of weeks in Edinburgh, the first time the two have spoken since Higgs was awarded his share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in October.

The story of why Kibble missed out exemplifies the difficulties faced by the Nobel committee, which deliberates in utmost secrecy after receiving confidential nominations from experts around the world. The rules state that each prize cannot be shared by more than one living person, which in itself creates difficulties in an age of close scientific collaboration.

In the case of the 1964 work leading up to the Higgs boson, there were six people involved in publishing scientific papers in this field of fundamental physics. Englert and his colleague Robert Brout still managed to publish first despite delaying their paper to double check they hadn't made any mistakes.

Higgs, working on his own, published next and was the first to be explicit about a particle – which is why it bears his name. Kibble, working with Americans Carl Richard Hagen and Gerald Guralnik, published last. But they were no Johnny-come-latelys – it is widely accepted that their contribution was the most thorough and complete of the three groups.

"Our paper was unquestionably the last of the three… and it is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the prize cannot be shared by more than three people," Kibble, now 80 and emeritus professor at Imperial College London, said recently.

The other man: Tom Kibble fell foul of the Nobel rules The other man: Tom Kibble fell foul of the Nobel rules
Higgs believes that Kibble's later contributions, published in 1967, should have earned him the third place on the Nobel podium. Although, like so many other scientists who have narrowly missed out on the greatest accolade in science, this would hardly have been fair to Guralnik and Hagen.

The Nobel Prize has always been a lottery and for as long as it has existed controversy has never been far away. Take the word boson itself, named after Satyendra Nath Bose, an Indian physicist who was never recognised with a Nobel for his work on quantum theory in the 1920s, even though many thought he deserved one.

But there again, theorists have always had a problem with the Nobel. Theories must have an empirical basis to win the prize, which is why Albert Einstein never won a Nobel for his two theories of relativity (his Nobel was for the photoelectric effect) – and why Higgs could only get his after his boson was shown to exist.

More difficult is deciding who to include and who to leave out. Frederick Banting famously fell out with the Nobel committee for awarding the 1923 prize to him and John Macleod for the discovery of insulin. Banting thought he should have shared it with his assistant, Charles Best.

Perhaps the time has come for the three- person rule to be reviewed, especially in fields such as physics where collaborations involving dozens of scientists are the norm rather than the exception.

The Nobel committee could also consider awarding the science prizes to scientific organisations, such as Cern in Geneva, and not just to individuals. After all, collaboration is the true spirit of science.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine