Nobels by the Numbers

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Nobels by the Numbers


Years between Peter Higgs and Francois Englert proposing the Higgs boson and being awarded the Nobel Prize, among the longest waits between discovery and recognition in the Physics Nobel’s history. On average, the time between discovery and winning the prize is rising, according to data published in Physics Today,1 and, if trends continue, most physicists will die before winning a Nobel.


Year between Chen Ning Yang and T. D. Lee’s publication of “Question of Parity Conservation in Weak Interactions” in Physical Review in 1956 and their being awarded the Nobel in 1957. This is the fastest time from discovery to prize.


Age of William Lawrence Bragg when he won the Nobel in Physics in 1915, the youngest ever Physics laureate.


Age of Raymond Davis, Jr., when he was awarded the Nobel in Physics in 2002, the oldest person ever to win the Physics Nobel.


Paul Dirac’s age when he won the Nobel. He may have wished he could take back a poem he had recited, according to biographer Helge Kragh, a few years earlier: “Age is, of course, a fever chill / that every physicist must fear / He is better dead than living still / when once he is past his thirtieth year.”


The number of women who have won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Marie Curie shared the 1903 prize with her husband and Henri Becquerel for their discovery of radiation, and Maria Goeppert Mayer shared the 1963 prize with Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Wigner for important discoveries about the structure of the nucleus.


The amount in Swedish krona that Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the first Physics laureate, received as his prize. SEK 150,782 in 1901is equivalent to about 7.7 million kronur today, which is not dissimilar to the values of today’s awards, which have fluctuated at around 9 million SEK as of late. Nine million SEK is about $1 million.


Percent of Physics laureates who wore beards; the other 80 percent apparently shaved regularly. According to tongue-in-cheek analysis by the Information is Beautiful Studio, the most likely demographic group to win a Nobel in any category would be a 61-year-old married man who was born in the spring, lives in America, and studies or works at Harvard.


Children of Nobel Prize winners who have gone on to win the prize themselves (though not always in physics). Irene Curie, daughter of Marie and Pierre, won the Chemistry Prize in 1935. William Lawrence Bragg shared the 1915 Physics Prize with his father. Kai Siegbahn and his father, Manne Siegbahn, each won Nobels in Physics. Clearly, it pays to be related to a Nobel laureate.


Number of people who have won the Nobel Prize in Physics twice. That honor goes to John Bardeen. (Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobels, but her first was in chemistry.) Bardeen, who co-won the 1956 prize for helping develop the transistor, attended the awards ceremony without his family in tow. King Gustav scolded Bardeen about leaving his family behind on the occasion of the Nobel ceremony, and he promised to bring them “next time.” So far, he is the only person in history who has been able to keep such a promise.


The percentage of Physics laureates in their 40s. More people in their 40s have won the Physics Prize than any other age group.3



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