Meet these Six Outstanding Physicists who Never Received Nobel Prize

by Areeba Merriam about a month ago in celebrities

The preferential blunders in the history of Nobel prize

Meet these Six Outstanding Physicists who Never Received Nobel Prize
A unique gold medal

The Nobel prize was named after Alfred Bernhard Nobel, who was a Swedish chemist as well as engineer, born in Stockholm. In 1895, he signed his last testament and donated the majority of his wealth to establish the Nobel prizes, to leave behind a better legacy. These are awarded annually in the fields of physical sciences, chemistry, literature, and medical sciences/physiology in Stockholm, Sweden. While the peace prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

Mathematics is simply not included because Nobel was not interested in theoretical sciences like mathematics, he particularly reserved it for those discoveries which are of greatest practical welfare to mankind. However, the ‘Nobel for mathematics’ is the Fields medal, known as the most prestigious and the highest level of honor a mathematician can achieve.

Apart from the prestige, a Nobel prize has, it can be as deceptive and misleading also. Because science has never been an independent venture, it has always been a successive process, where individuals carry on the discoveries made by others to boost human knowledge.

The problem starts with the limit of three winners in each class, annually, ignoring the contribution of the majority of the scientists. This was the case in 2017 when the Nobel prize in physics was awarded to three people on the discovery of gravitational waves, yet many scientists were involved in the landmark research.

Richard Feynman, a physics Nobel laureate, once said that the concept of this prize is illusive. He was not in favor of the idea that someone from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decides if the work is Nobel enough to achieve a prize. The prize for a scientist is the pleasure he experiences while exploring things.

Arnold Sommerfeld

Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was a German physicist. He was nominated for the Nobel prize 84 times, certainly the biggest number of nominations in history, but has never won it. Though he supervised the highest number of Nobel prize recipients in their doctoral studies. In his biography entitled “Arnold Sommerfeld- Science, Life and Turbulent Times 1868–1951” by Michael Eckert, it was mentioned rightly in his regard that

“Planck was the authority, Einstein the genius, and Sommerfeld the teacher”.

He was known for the work on atomic theory in the field of quantum physics as well as in the field of mathematical diffraction theory. The work which stands out among others is the generalization of Bohr’s atomic model, which gives the accurate description of atom at that time, probably the most important results in the “old quantum theory”.

Arnold Sommerfeld

Satyendra Bose

Satyendra Nath Bose was an Indian mathematician and theoretical physicist. He made contributions to the statistical motivation of quantum mechanics. Einstein was impressed by his work on “Planck’s Law and Hypothesis of Light Quanta”. Their collaboration resulted in a new type of statistics known as Bose-Einstein statistics and the prediction of the existence of the phenomena known as Bose-Einstein condensate.

Later several Nobel prizes were awarded in the related work on bosons, an integer spin particles, named after Bose himself. As 2001 Nobel prize was shared by three people for the work “The achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates.”

The head of the physics department, University of Allahabad, wrote a letter to the Nobel committee to evaluate his outstanding contributions, but an expert from the committee did not see his work worthy of a Nobel prize, even though he was nominated 4 times for the prize, but never awarded the honor.


Vera Rubin

Vera Florence Cooper Rubin was an American astronomer. She made the groundbreaking observation that provided the evidence for the existence of dark matter in the universe, opening a vast field of scientific work. She with her colleague observed that stars within spiral galaxies were not behaving according to the laws of physics, this strange behavior led to the conclusion that some invisible mass must be influencing the galactic rotation.

Today we know that our universe is composed of 23% dark matter, 73% dark energy, and 4% is the matter that has been studied and well-understood. She was the first woman to legally use a famous telescope at Caltech Palomar Observatory in California.

Many Nobel prizes were awarded based on the work of Vera Robin. The 2011 Nobel prize went to three people on the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the universe. The contributing forces are thought to be dark energy and the invisible kind of matter that pervades the universe, the nature of both are mysterious. And the last year’s prize went to James Peebles on the theoretical work that supported the effects of Rubin’s observation.

Vera Rubin

Jocelyn Bell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland. She discovered the first radio pulsar, which was among the most important astronomical finding of the 20th century.

The discovery was acknowledged by the committee for the Nobel prize in 1974. Her advisor Antony Hewish and the astronomer Martin Ryle were found to be the recipients of the prize, although she was the first one to observe the pulsars, her contribution was badly overlooked. She said that it doesn’t bother her much that her name wasn’t included, because in those days students were not recognized by the committee.

Half a century after her pioneer work, she received “a special breakthrough prize in fundamental physics” which comes with the amount 3 million $.

Jocelyn Bell

Edwin Hubble

Edwin Powell Hubble was an American astronomer. He revolutionized the field of astrophysics, his research helped prove the expansion of the universe, which provided strong evidence for the big-bang theory. In 1929, he found that all galaxies are receding from us with velocity directly proportional to their distance from us known as Hubble’s Law.

Stephen Hawking credited him in his book “A Brief History of Time” that Hubble’s discovery “that the universe is expanding was one of the great intellectual revolutions of the 20th century”. He also developed a method to classify galaxies, known as the Hubble’s tuning fork diagram.

He did not obtain the Nobel prize, despite all his efforts because there was no category for his field, back then astronomy was not viewed as the branch of physics.

Edwin Hubble

Emmy Noether

Amalie Emmy Noether was a German mathematician and theoretical physicist. At the time when women were considered inferior to men intellectually, she won the recognition.

Albert Einstein in his newly developed theory of general relativity asked Noether for help due to her expertise in symmetry, to understand how energy is fitted into his equations. Meanwhile, she discovered that the symmetries of the physical system are linked to the quantities that are conserved, such as energy. Later she proved the idea which is now known as Noether’s theorem.

Einstein wrote about her in the New York Times that “Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Despite her groundbreaking discovery, she was never awarded, it was the biggest discriminatory lapse in the history of Nobel prize.

Emmy Noether

Sadly, it is said that all Nobel prize winners are brilliant without any doubt but all brilliant and deserving scientists are not Nobel laureates. Perhaps destiny has its reasons. The Nobel committee may have forgotten the contributions of these great scientists and physicists, but that doesn’t mean we have to.

Areeba Merriam
Areeba Merriam
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Areeba Merriam

Research student | MS mathematics

Pursuing my research in the field of general relativity.

As a hobby I write blogs about popular science topics and biographies of scientists.

See all posts by Areeba Merriam