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Why didn’t Einstein win a noble prize for relativity?

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  1. Mar 18, 2009 #1
    i heard it was becuase it was to over the heads of the Committee is this true?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2009 #2
    To my understanding, relativity was not yet firmly accepted to be true until Einstein's later years. Hence, the committee was afraid to hand out a medal for a theory whose validity was uncertain.
     
  4. Mar 18, 2009 #3
    i see
     
  5. Mar 19, 2009 #4

    dx

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    If Einstein got a Nobel prize for every significant thing he did, he would have dozens.
     
  6. Mar 19, 2009 #5
    what wrong with having dozens
     
  7. Mar 19, 2009 #6
    Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect".
    The award enhanced the reputation of the Nobel Prize committee more than it did his.
     
  8. Mar 19, 2009 #7

    alxm

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    No. Neither general or special relativity was 'over the heads' of the committee. But by 1921, neither of them had been conclusively proven experimentally. Also, the Nobel prize in Physics does not treat all physics on an equal footing - it has a strong empirical/experimental/technical slant, because that's how Nobel worded his will.

    The importance of his Brownian motion work was perhaps underestimated by the committee at the time, who considered spectroscopy to have been more important in showing the discrete nature of matter. (c.f. contemporary prizes going to Rutherford and the Braggs) But it was later indirectly rewarded through Jean Perrin's prize. They certainly considered Einstein worthy, and the Photoelectric Effect was considered to be his most well-verified, most important contribution at that time. It helped of course that the then-new committee member Oseen was very well acquainted with it.

    There's a whole book on this, btw: Elzinga, "Einstein’s Nobel Prize: A Glimpse Behind Closed Doors"

    Says who? As if Arrhenius is best known as a "Nobel committee member".
    The Nobel prizes had already achieved great stature in 1921. They had fairly great stature since the start, with the first prize going to Röntgen. That's the only one I've ever heard considered important to cementing the reputation of the Nobels.
     
  9. Mar 19, 2009 #8
    My physics prof said Einstein won the noble prize for the photoelectric effect because he had a nice experiment to prove it and a nice data table. but this is prolly
    what you mean by well-verified.
    and like someone warned me on this are we not allowed to ask y ?'s i just thought it was interesting topic.
     
  10. Mar 19, 2009 #9
    He probably was not sufficiently Politically Correct.
     
  11. Mar 19, 2009 #10
    I read a really excellent article on the internet awhile ago arguing that even above the "proven discoveries" element (remember, Einstein's 1921 Nobel Prize came just a year or two after Eddington provided the first compelling experimental evidence for General Relativity) in the first half of the 20th century the controlling faction of the Nobel Prize Physics committee had a bias against theoretical physics and toward experimentalists. The argument was that these internal committee politics barred the award for relativity (but allowed the pro-Einstein faction on the committee to press through in desperation a nobel prize for the photoelectric effect, which had some kind of application in precision experimental measurement) and later significantly held back prizes for the pioneers of quantum physics.

    Unfortunately I now cannot find this or remember exactly where it was.
     
  12. Mar 19, 2009 #11

    russ_watters

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    Not to speak for jimmy, but the wording of the prize implies to me an attempt by the Nobel committee to correct a glaring oversight - such a big oversight would definitely not reflect well on the prize. Essentially, they were admitting a mistake.
     
  13. Mar 19, 2009 #12

    Chi Meson

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    It can only be speculation, but if Einstein had lived 5 to 10 years longer, he might have earned a prize for Special and General Relativity. His reputation really picked up steam through the 50s and 60s. As noted, it wasn't until then that SR and GR were widely supported. But since the Nobel can not be given posthumously, we'll never know if it would have happened.
     
  14. Mar 19, 2009 #13

    russ_watters

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    I'm surprised to hear people saying that his theories weren't that well received. I'm not super up on the history, but I had always gotten the impression that they were. In particular, it was my understanding that the 1919 eclipse prediction was high profile, mainstream, international news at the time.
     
  15. Mar 20, 2009 #14

    Chi Meson

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    I think he was indeed quite the superstar in the media after the eclipse prediction, but it still took a few decades for acceptance of SR and GR to be reach near unanimity among the science community. Considering how popular he was and the huge headlines he made after the 1919 prediction, the fact that his 1921 prize did not mention SR nor GR specifically, speaks volumes about the reservations that were being held. The "old guard" of science at the time was clearly not ready to let go of the aether.

    Even Michelson had not yet (or only recently had) conceded to the null result of the MMX. By the end of the 20s he was claiming to have established the first experimental support of SR (there is newsreel of him claiming that as one of his three greatest accomplishments, along with measuring the speed of light and measuring the diameter of Betelgeuse), but during the 1910s he was still working on it.
     
  16. Mar 20, 2009 #15
    Even when eddingtin went to africa to observe the eclipse and confirmed it
    the angle difference was so small that people still had thier doubts and it took a little while to accept his theory.
     
  17. Mar 20, 2009 #16

    Haelfix

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    Very few physicists doubted special relativity. In 1905 virtually all the specialists instantly regarded it as the correct solution, by the 20s it was more or less textbook material and even the old school professors had more or less come around. GR was also widely believed to be accurate pretty rapidly, though it never had anywhere near the experimental coup de gras necessary for a nobel. Still, skeptics like Tesla were ostracized by the community and so forth.

    By the 40s, you were more or less a crackpot if you didn't believe SR.

    There was of course the slight problem that you could more or less give Einstein as many Nobel prizes as you wanted and it would be endless.
     
  18. Mar 20, 2009 #17
    ya but some people have 2 noble's and he only has one
    give credit where credit is due.
     
  19. Mar 20, 2009 #18

    alxm

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    Well, not giving Einstein the Nobel would've been a gigantic oversight. And from glancing through Elzinga's book, it seems he would've gotten it for the photoelectric effect a few years earlier if it hadn't been for Arrhenius's report on the subject (later superceded by Oseen's), where he'd apparently overstated the importance of some earlier experiments, and neglected the importance of the theory towards the development of the Bohr atomic model. (Which got the award the very next year, in what was probably another Oseen influence)

    All in all though, 10-20 years isn't really an atypical span of time between the publication of a theory and getting a Nobel for it. Highly anticipated experimental results get rewarded much faster. (e.g. Carlo Rubbia)

    True. But SR wasn't verified experimentally (measuring the relativistic mass of an accelerated electron) until 1915-1916.

    It's not exactly a secret the Nobel committees are careful and conservative. Recognizing the 'right' discoveries is more important than being the first to do so. I'd say it's served them well. It's hard to find 'undeserved' awards, and the 'controversial' ones that do exist tend to be because someone felt someone else played a bigger role in the same discovery. Which still means they were at the very least giving an award for the right thing.
     
  20. Mar 20, 2009 #19

    alxm

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    It's a noble prize indeed but the name is Nobel.

    Marie Curie shared two. Einstein didn't share his. Nobody has gotten two full prizes in the same subject. Actually the only person to get two full prizes is Pauling, for Chemistry and Peace.
     
  21. Mar 20, 2009 #20
    The fact is, whether Einstein won a Nobel or not, is all relative. :)))
     
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