It is that time of year again -- the time when the best and the brightest from around the world lose sleep wondering if they are going to get that early morning call from Sweden announcing that they have won the Nobel prize.
Last year I placed my wager on Yakir Aharonov and Michael Berry for geometric phases in physics. This turned out to be a bad bet. From now on I am removing Aharonov from my list of likely candidates. Why? Because I was informed that the 1961 work he is most famous for actually discovered 12 years earlier by Ehrenberg and Siday (Even Wikipedia appears aware of this). The fact that it is called the “Ahanronov-Bohm effect” appears to be a good example of Stigler’s law: The principle that nothing is ever named after its original discoverer. (Stigler’s law itself was discovered by Merton).
Since last year, the prize went to Smith and Boyle and Kao for what many people disparaged as “just engineering” (albeit some pretty amazing engineering). Given that, I think this year the prize might go to something a bit more fundamental. A decent bet would be Sir Michael Berry (without Aharonov).
However, for my money, I think the front-runner is the WMAP experiment (Wilkenson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) which measured the fluctuations of the temperature of the universe – telling us a whole lot about its history. It is a very important experiment. Reuters actually agrees that this one is a pretty good bet. Another really good bet (in my opinion) is the Neutrino Mass experiment from Super-K. I bet on them in 2008 (and lost, as usual).
Another bet on Reuters is Ebbesen for surface plasmons: collective motion of light and electrons together on the surface of metals. While this is nice work, and Ebbesen is a good scientist, I think it is far from a Nobel.
Olaf Smits, in Dublin, mentioned a really interesting possibility. While a bit out of the box for a Nobel Prize in Physics, the fact that last year was a bit out of the box indicates that the Nobel committee is willing to break some rules these days. Olaf’s bet is that the prize will be awarded for the discovery of exo-solar planets. In the star-trek futuristic “this is our moment to discover that we are not alone” kind of way, I think a case could be made that this is worthy.