Why Einstein never received a Nobel prize for relativity

Nobel prizes often attract controversy, but usually after they have been awarded. Albert Einstein’s physics prize was the subject of argument for years before it was even a reality

Albert Einstein το 1920. Θα λάβει το βραβείο Νόμπελ Φυσικής το επόμενο έτος, αλλά όχι για τη σχετικότητα. Φωτογραφία: Roger Viollet / Getty Images

Stuart Clark – guardian.co.uk

There was a lot riding on Einstein winning a Nobel prize. Beyond his academic reputation, and that of the Nobel Institute for recognising greatness, the wellbeing of his former wife and their two sons depended upon it.

In the aftermath of the first world war, defeated Germany was being consumed by hyper-inflation. The government was printing more money to pay the war reparations and, as a result, the mark went into freefall against foreign currencies. Living in Berlin, Einstein was naturally affected by the crisis.

He had divorced Mileva in 1919, several years after she had returned to Switzerland with the boys, Hans-Albert and Eduard. As part of the settlement, Einstein pledged any eventual Nobel prize money to her for their upkeep. As the hyper-inflation bit ever deeper, so he needed that cash.

By this time, Einstein had a decade’s worth of Nobel nominations behind him. Yet each year, to mounting criticism, the committee decided against his work on the grounds that relativity was unproven. In 1919, that changed. Cambridge astrophysicist Arthur Eddington famously used a total eclipse to measure the deflection of stars’ positions near the Sun. The size of the deflection was exactly as Einstein had predicted from relativity in 1915. The prize should have been his, but the committee snubbed him again.

Why? Because now dark forces were at work.

Antisemitism was on the rise in Germany; Jews were being scapegoated for the country’s defeat in the war. As both Jew and pacifist, Einstein was an obvious target. The complexity of relativity did not help either. Opponents such as Ernst Gehrcke and Philipp Lenard found it easy to cast doubt upon its labyrinthine mathematics.

The situation reached crisis point in 1921 when, paralysed by indecision, the Nobel Committee decided it was better not to award a prize at all than to give it to relativity. The arguments raged for another year until a compromise was reached.

At the suggestion of Carl Wilhelm Oseen, Einstein would receive the deferred 1921 prize, but not for relativity. He would be given it for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which electrons are emitted from a metal sheet only under certain illuminations. The work had been published back in 1905.

It has been argued that this work, which introduced the concept of photons, has had more impact than relativity. I’m not sure. With relativity, Einstein gave us a way to understand the Universe as a whole. It was a staggering leap forward in our intellectual capability.

The Nobel citation reads that Einstein is honoured for “services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”. At first glance, the reference to theoretical physics could have been a back door through which the committee acknowledged relativity. However, there was a caveat stating that the award was presented “without taking into account the value that will be accorded your relativity and gravitation theories after these are confirmed in the future”.

To many, and to Einstein himself, this felt like a slap in the face. Hadn’t Eddington proved the theory? Yes, but the trouble was Eddington’s observations had not been perfect and he had discarded data he considered poor from his final analysis. To some, as related in Jeffrey Crelinsten’s Einstein’s Jury, this smacked of cooking the books in Einstein’s favour. In reality it was just good scientific practice.

There is also another way to read the Nobel caveat. Could it have been that the committee was leaving the door open for a second Nobel prize in the future, once relativity had been more rigorously tested? We will never know. As Einstein’s fame spread, so he alienated himself from the physics community by refusing to accept quantum theory. A Nobel prize for relativity was never awarded.

The final twist in this story is that Einstein did not attend his prize giving. Despite being informed that he was about to receive the prize, he chose to continue with a lecture tour of Japan. Partly, this was because he no longer valued the prize and partly it was because he needed to disappear.

German foreign minister Walther Rathenau had been murdered by anti-Semites. In the subsequent investigation, the police had found Einstein’s name on a list of targets. In the face of such a death treat, leaving Germany to spend months in the Far East, rather than a few days in Stockholm, must have seemed prudent.

In the end, perhaps the best thing that came out of Einstein’s Nobel prize was the money. It went towards keeping Mileva and the boys secure, and became essential when Eduard developed schizophrenia as a young adult and needed to be hospitalised.

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded on Tuesday. This week’s prize schedule is here. You can watch each announcement live in the viewer below.

Stuart Clark is the author of forthcoming Einstein novel, The Day Without Yesterday (Polygon)

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011

2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced within the hour!
Watch the live webcast here



A silver/aluminium quasicrystal of the type discovered by Nobel prizewinner Daniel Shechtman. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been won by Daniel Shechtman Technion Department of the Faculty of Materials Engineering – in Israel, for the discovery of quasicrystals

Daniel Shechtman


Nobel win for crystal discovery

"There can be no such structure", said Dr Shechtman of quasicrystals

The Nobel prize for chemistry has gone to a single researcher for his discovery of the structure of quasicrystals.

The new structural form was previously thought to be impossible and provoked controversy.

Daniel Shechtman, from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, will receive the entire 10m Swedish krona (£940,000) prize.

The Nobel prize in chemistry caps this year’s science awards.

Professor David Phillips, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, called quasicrystals “quite beautiful”.

He added: “Quasicrystals are a fascinating aspect of chemical and material science – crystals that break all the rules of being a crystal at all.”

Dr Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science to convince others of what he had first seen in his lab on an April morning in 1982.

He first created quasicrystals by rapidly cooling molten metals, such as aluminium and manganese, by squirting the mixture onto a cool surface.

By sending an electron wave through a molten metal “grate”, the Israeli researcher was able to see how the wave was diffracted by the metal’s atoms.

Under the microscope he observed that the new crystal was made up of perfectly ordered, but never repeating, units – a structure that is at odds with all other crystals that are regular and precisely repeating.

Shechtman himself is said to have cried “Eyn chaya kazo”, which translates from the Hebrew as “there can be no such creature”.

Irregular mosaic shapes, similar to what Dr Shechtman was seeing, are found in the medieval Islamic mosaics of the Alhambra Palace in Spain. The tiles that line the walls and floors of the palace are regular, and follow mathematical rules, but also never repeat themselves.

Following Shechtman’s discovery, scientists have formed other kinds of quasicrystals in the lab and a naturally forming example has been found among mineral samples from a Russian river.

Quasicrystal sructures tend to be hard, non-sticky and are poor conductors of heat and electricity. These properties make them useful as coatings for frying pans and as insulating material for electrical wires.

They are also found in the world’s most durable steel, used in razor blades and ultrafine needles for in eye surgeries.

“It’s a great work of discovery, with potential applications that range from light-emitting diodes to improved diesel engines,” said the president of the American Chemical Society Nancy Jackson.


Physics Nobel will attract controversy

Assigning credit for a scientific discovery is never easy, especially when two rival, interacting teams of scientists are involved. That is exactly the problem that the Nobel committee must have grappled with before awarding this year’s physics prize to Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess and Brian Schmidt.

Perlmutter led the Supernova Cosmology Project, while Schmidt and Riess were involved with the High-Z Supernovae programme. Both groups came to the surprising conclusion in 1998 that the rate of expansion of the universe is increasing, not decreasing as had been thought. So a shared prize seems fair enough.

Or is it? In 2007 Bob Crease wrote an extensive article about the same discovery that proved controversial – to say the least. Some members from both teams had been particularly worried about Crease’s article, which went through more than 20 drafts.

At issue was the fact that the teams were rivals using different techniques – as well as the question of who reported and published their work first. What Bob’s article reveals is how deeply scientific progress is indebted to ambition, desire, pride, rivalry, suspicion and other perfectly ordinary human passions.

You can read the article here.
By Hamish Johnston –physicsworld.com

Nobel Prize in Physics 2011


From left to right, Adam Riess, Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter, who have won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 has been awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P Schmidt and Adam G Riess for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe

Three scientists shared the 2011 Nobel Prize for physics for the stunning discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, meaning it may one day turn to ice, the prize committee said on Tuesday.

Scientists have known since the 1920s that the universe is expanding, as a result of the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago, but the discovery that this process is accelerating — and not slowing as many thought — rocked the research community.

“If the expansion will continue to speed up, the universe will end in ice,” the Nobel committee said in a statement.

Half of the 10 million Swedish crown ($1.5 million) prize money went to American Saul Perlmutter and the rest to two members of a second team which conducted similar work — U.S.-born Brian Schmidt, who is based in Australia, and American Adam Riess.

“We ended up telling the world we have this crazy result, the universe is speeding up,” Schmidt told a news conference by telephone after the award was announced in Stockholm.

“It seemed too crazy to be right and I think we were a little scared,” he added.

Nobel Committee for Physics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in its statement that the discovery was made by looking at distant, exploding stars.

Instead of their light becoming brighter, it was fading.

“The surprising conclusion was that the expansion of the universe is not slowing down. Quite to the contrary, it is accelerating,” the committee said.

The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, although cosmologists have little idea what that is.

They estimate that dark energy — a kind of inverse gravity, repelling matter that comes close to it — accounts for around three quarters of the universe.

guardian.co.uk – reuters.com

Yes…science.thomsonreuters.com‘s prediction is wrong again!! (anyway… read the commnent below…)

2011 Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced within the hour! Watch the live webcast here


The 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine

From left to right, Jules A Hoffmann, Bruce A Beutler, and Ralph M Steinman, who have won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

(Unfortunately, Ralph Steinman died on Friday, days before it was announced he had won the Nobel prize for medicine).
Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries about the immune system that opened new avenues for the treatment and prevention of infectious illnesses and cancer.
American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffmann shared the 10 million-kronor ($1.5 million) award with Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, the Nobel committee at Stockholm Karolinska institute said.

Beutler and Hoffmann were cited for their discoveries in the 1990s of receptor proteins that can recognize bacteria and other microorganisms as they enter the body, and activate the first line of defense in the immune system, known as innate immunity.

Steinman, 70, was honored for the discovery two decades earlier of dendritic cells, which help regulate adaptive immunity, the next stage of the immune system’s response, when the invading microorganisms are purged from the body….. Continue reading The 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine

2011 Nobel Prize Predictions

… in Physics

  • Alain Aspect
    CNRS Distinguished Scientist and Head of the Atom Optics Group, Laboratoire Charles Fabry, Institut d’Optique, Palaiseau France
    WHY: with John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger, for their tests of Bell’s inequalities and research on quantum entanglement
  • John F. Clauser
    Research Physicist, J.F. Clauser & Associates, Walnut Creek, CA USA
    WHY: with Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger, for their tests of Bell’s inequalities and research on quantum entanglement
  • Sajeev John
    University Professor of Physics and Canada Research Chair, Department of Physics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario Canada
    WHY: with Eli Yablonovitch, for their invention and development of photonic band gap materials
  • Hideo Ohno
    Professor of the Laboratory for Nanoelectronics and Spintronics, Research Institute of Electrical Communication, and Director of the Center for Spintronics Integrated Systems, Tohoku University, Sendai Japan
    WHY: for contributions to ferromagnetism in diluted magnetic semiconductors
  • Eli Yablonovitch
    Professor and James and Katherine Lau Chair in Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA USA
    WHY: with Sajeev John, for their invention and development of photonic band gap materials
  • Anton Zeilinger
    Full Professor of Experimental Physics, University of Vienna, and Scientific Director, Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna Austria
    WHY: with Alain Aspect and John F. Clauser, for their tests of Bell’s inequalities and research on quantum entanglement


Ig Nobel awards: the triumph of silly science

Next week, the Ig Nobel awards recognise the most weirdest science around, says Victoria Lambert.

Nose for glory: a remote-controlled helicopter makes a daring descent during its prize-winning mission to collect whale mucus.

Showered with paper aeroplanes, garlanded by admiring Nobel laureates, some of the world’s quirkiest scientistswill be honoured at a sell-out ceremony at Harvard University next week.

The 21st annual Ig Nobel Prizes, conferred by Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), have become one of the most coveted prizes in science. Bringing neither personal riches nor offers of future funding, the Ig Nobels do bestow a heavy dollop of cool on their winners who, collectively, seem to put the fizz in physics and the giggles in gigabytes.

Recent winners include a UK-Mexico collaboration, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-controlled helicopter; Dutch duo Simon Rietveld and Ilja van Beest for discovering that some forms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride; and a team from Otago University, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in winter, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes….. Continue reading Ig Nobel awards: the triumph of silly science