Nobel Price for physics

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The Nobel Prize in Physics is considered the highest honor for achievements in the field of physics . It is awarded annually together with the Nobel Prizes for Physiology or Medicine , Chemistry and Literature and the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics on December 10th, the anniversary of the death of the founder Alfred Nobel , in Stockholm . According to the willNobels will use the proceeds of the funds earmarked for the prize to go to those who have brought the greatest benefit to mankind in the past year. The prize is divided into five categories, to which the prize money is divided equally. The physics award is intended to go to those who “have made the most important discovery or invention in the field of physics”. Nobel has chosen the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as the awarding body .

Nomination process

The nomination process for the Nobel Prize begins in September, i. H. prior to the announcement of last year's winners , with the Swedish Academy of Sciences sending invitations to scientists in numerous countries asking them to propose candidates for next year's Nobel Prize. In detail these are

  • Swedish and foreign members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  • Members of the Nobel Committee for Physics
  • previous laureates of the Nobel Prize in Physics
  • Full and associate professors in physics at universities and technical institutes in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway and at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm
  • Holders of comparable chairs at at least six other universities or technical colleges - the selection is made by the Academy of Sciences, so that a suitable spread across different countries and subject areas is guaranteed.
  • other scientists the Academy considers suitable.

Those contacted have the right to submit proposals to the Nobel Committee by February 1st . Although many candidates are proposed multiple times, the number of nominations in recent years has been around 250 to 350 per year.

The Nobel Committee, which has been expanded in recent years to include extraordinary members with equal voting rights , appoints five members who sift through the nominations in spring and summer and examine them with the help of independent experts. The committee makes its recommendations to the academy in early autumn, which votes on the proposals in early October. The Academy can award the award to one, two or three people and forwards its decision, which is final and without the possibility of objection, to the award winners and the press. Information about the nominations, the tests and opinions regarding the award will be kept secret for 50 years.

Nobel Committee for Physics

In 2018, the Nobel Committee for Physics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences consisted of:

Award ceremony

On December 10th, the winners, along with the chemistry, medicine and literature winners, will be invited to Stockholm for the official award ceremony by the King of Sweden . At these celebrations, you will receive the Nobel medal, a personal diploma and prize money of currently (2020) 10 million Swedish kronor (approx. 975,000 euros), which is shared by the winners in one category.


In the more than 100-year history of the Nobel Prize, a number of decisions triggered reactions that ranged from incomprehension to outrage. A scientist must be nominated for consideration. In physics, the reason for criticism was not so much the awarding of the prize to certain scientists, but rather the failure to consider various scientists in the award ceremony. Some scientists received numerous nominations, but the award was never given to them, whereas others were never nominated and could not be considered for that reason alone.

  • Chung-Yao Chao was the first to detect positrons from electron-positron pair generation in 1930 (even if he did not know what it was), but Carl David Anderson was awarded the prize for the discovery in 1936 . Chao did not receive a nomination for the award until 1966. Chao died in 1998 and was denied the Nobel Prize.
  • Lise Meitner was nominated at least 29 times for the Nobel Prize in Physics, but she never received it. 19 nominations for the Prize for Chemistry between 1924 and 1948 also remained fruitless. Nominations were sent in by well-known personalities such as Max Planck . She died in 1968.
  • Chien-Shiung Wu , also known as the “First Lady of Physics”, refuted the preservation of parity and was awarded the first Wolf Prize for Physics. But she was denied the Nobel Prize. No nominations were received for her until 1966. She died in 1997.
  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first radio pulsar as a student , but was not considered at the 1974 award ceremony. A prominent advocate of Bell's claims was Fred Hoyle .
  • Fred Hoyle was not considered at the 1983 award ceremony, although even the award winner William Alfred Fowler expressly recognized Hoyle's achievements in developing the concept of stellar nucleosynthesis . Hoyle had been nominated in at least 1964 and 1965.

Nobel Symposia

The Nobel Committee has been holding symposia since 1965 that deal with topics that are in transition or that are of central cultural or social importance. Of the 144 events held (including 12 anniversary events), 30 dealt with topics from physics, the first of which in 1968 with "elementary particle theory". The last physical symposium in June 2006 was dedicated to the subject area “Cosmic Chemistry and Molecular Astrophysics”.

Award winners

  • The first laureate in 1901 was the German Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen . He received 50,000 Swedish kronor.
  • The youngest recipient to date was William Lawrence Bragg (1915) at the age of 25 .
  • The oldest winner to date was Arthur Ashkin (2018) at the age of 96 . Until 2019 he was the oldest Nobel Prize winner ever.
  • John Bardeen was the only laureate to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics twice (1956 and 1972); In addition to the Nobel Prize in Physics (1903), Marie Curie was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1911).
  • Among the 218 winners until 2021 are only four women, Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963), Donna Strickland (2018) and Andrea Ghez (2020), the Nobel Prize for Physics thus has the lowest proportion of women of all Nobel Prizes . The business award, which is not one of the prizes sponsored by Alfred Nobel and has only been awarded since 1969, now has a higher proportion of women, with two female prizewinners versus 84 male prizewinners (as of 2020 [out of date] ).
  • In 1903, Marie and Pierre Curie were the only married couple to be honored. (Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 together with her husband Frédéric .)
  • So far, father and son have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics four times: William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg (1915), Niels Bohr (1922) and Aage Niels Bohr (1975), Manne Siegbahn (1924) and Kai Siegbahn (1981) as well Joseph John Thomson (1906) and George Paget Thomson (1937).
  • There was a single award winner 47 times (most recently Georges Charpak 1992), 32 times two and 36 times three people shared the award (as of 2021).
  • Most of the award winners so far (as of 2021) had the USA with 94.5 prizes received (if a prizewinner has several nationalities, then half a prize is credited to each country), followed by the United Kingdom (27.5) and Germany (26.5 ). The winners come from a total of 18 nations.


  • Rainer Scharf: Excellent physics. The Nobel Prize and the History of a Science. Verlag Bückle & Böhm, Regensburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-941530-09-6 .
  • Robert Marc Friedman: The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science . WH Freeman & Co, 2002, ISBN 0-7167-3103-7 .
  • Claus D. Hillebrand: Nobel Century: a biographical analysis of physics laureates. In: Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. No. 2, 2002, pp. 87-93.

Web links

Commons : Nobel Prize in Physics  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Nobel Laureate in Physics  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ The Nobel Committee for Physics ,, accessed October 2, 2018.
  2. ^ Nobel Prize facts. Retrieved December 12, 2020 (American English).
  3. a b c d The database with the nominations is only released until 1966.
  4. Werner E. Gerabek : Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and his discovery of X-rays. In: Würzburg medical history reports. Volume 13, 1995, pp. 87-96; here: p. 94.
  5. ^ All Nobel Prizes in Physics., accessed October 4, 2021 .
  6. ^ All Prizes in Economic Sciences., accessed October 4, 2021 .