Friday, October 3, 2014

Nobel Bets 2014

I am breaking my blogging silence to go on record with my predictions for the 2014 Nobel Prize.  The physics prize will be awarded next Tuesday, so place your bets now!.   (Last year was too easy, everyone knew it was going to be Higgs). 

A lot of people think I am placing my money years too early, but I really think the time is now ripe for Topological Insulators to receive a Nobel Prize.   My reasons:

(A)   The topic has been hugely influential, and has very much changed how we think about matter
(B)   The Nobel Committee tends to rotate between fields, and condensed matter last got the prize in 2010 (graphene), so I think the stars are properly aligned.
(C)   There was a “Nobel Symposium” on Topological Insulators this summer, and that is a good sign.

So who will be included on the prize?   This is where things get complicated. Charlie Kane is probably a lock, but beyond this, things are up in the air.

Case 1) Prize emphasizes theory of topology in condensed matter

                                Charlie Kane, for topological insulators
                                Duncan Haldane, for spin chains
                                David Thouless, for topological quantum numbers

Pro:   Thouless is someone who really should have gotten a prize for something by this time!
Con:  Volovik should be included  (I suppose one could swap out Haldane, but the spin chain work was pretty important too!)

Case 2) Prize emphasizes quantum spin Hall physics

                                Shou-Cheng Zhang, for prediction of quantum spin Hall effect
                                Laurens Molenkamp, for experimental observation of quantum spin Hall effect
                                Charlie Kane, for topological Insulators

Pro:  Contains experiment
Con: So what?  This field has been driven much more by theory
Pro:   There is political force in the community behind this one
Con: There is political force in the community behind this one

 Case 3) Prize recognizes discovery of the Z2 invariant in 2D

                                Charlie Kane and Gene Mele for one killer paper.

Pro:  Very simple and focused
Con: Leaves everyone else out.

The 3D topological insulators, would be hard to recognize with a prize simply because too many people were involved both in the theoretical and experimental aspects of the discovery.   

If Topological Insulators is indeed awarded the prize, I will put in a blog post explaining what they are.   I might also add a story about sitting in a bomb shelter with Charlie Kane while being shelled by Hamas in Israel this summer.  And I might explain what this picture is about...


Anonymous said...

I'm sort of hoping for case (1) (Duncan and David are two of my heroes!) but expecting case (2).

Steve said...

Another possibility is Aharonov and Berry as a bit of a precursor to this prize (the same way Veltmann and t'Hooft were awarder the prize before Gross, Wilczek, Politzer --- o r atom trapping before BEC). There are unfortunately some precursors to both Aharonov and Berry. Aharonov-Bohm (1959) was preceded by Ehrenberg-Siday (1949), which was a remarkably similar paper. And Berry (1984) was preceded by Pancharatnam (1956). Nonetheless, the later "discoveries" were still crucial because they realized the importance of the effects, which had been largely overlooked when they were discovered the first time.

Steve said...

Thank you and agreements with the Anonymous commenter who fixed my spelling of Laurens Molenkamp.