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Higgs boson: So who is getting the Nobel?

The discovery of a particle thought to be the elusive Higgs boson has prompted a new investigation: Whose names will be engraved on the Nobel Prize in Physics medal?

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The true difficulty with awarding Nobels now is that as the body of scientific knowledge grows, it's getting harder to find standout discoveries, Lidin thinks. Riess also talked about how most science moves incrementally, but the Nobel Prize committees look for the rarer large leaps — the "highlight reel" of science, Riess said. 

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"The sort of discoveries that change entire subjects are very rare these days," Lidin said, though he later noted that perhaps scientists only feel that way because milestones look clear in hindsight, whereas people may not recognize a revolution in science is happening while they're experiencing it. 

The Nobel committees are well known for their one- or two-decade lag in awarding prizes. The astronomers who won last year's physics Nobel wrote about the accelerating universe in the 1990s, while the discovery of the structure of DNA, which James Watson and Francis Crick first detailed in a study published in 1953, wasn't recognized by the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine until 1962. It takes such a long time because it isn't clear until later how important certain work is, Lidin said. 

The expected awards for the Higgs boson discovery are a special case. People have been searching for the particle for years and they knew it would be a milestone once discovered. Lidin said he can't talk about the physics Nobel for this year, but he is sure the physics committee has thought carefully about the problem of awarding large groups. He reiterated that identifying deserving discoveries is more likely to be a problem for the physics committee than identifying the leaders in a group involved in one discovery. 

Taking the longer view, Reiss said that whoever gets the Nobel and other prizes "is not really a big problem" compared to the solving the problems of nature. 

You can follow InnovationNewsDaily staff writer Francie Diep on Twitter @franciediep. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 InnovationNewsDaily, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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