Nobel Laureates in Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics

In 1901 the very first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Wilhelm Röntgen for his discovery of X-rays. In more recent years, the Physics Nobel Prize has been awarded for both pioneering discoveries and groundbreaking inventions.

The Nobel Prize Medal for Physics and Chemistry

The medal of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences represents Nature in the form of a goddess resembling Isis, emerging from the clouds and holding in her arms a cornucopia. The veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science.

The inscription reads:
Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes

loosely translated “And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.”

(literally: inventions enhance life which is beautified through art.)

The words are taken from Vergilius Aeneid, the 6th song, verse 663:
Lo, God-loved poets, men who spake things worthy Phoebus’ heart;
and they who bettered life on earth by new-found mastery

The name of the Nobel Laureate is engraved on the plate below the figures, and the text “REG. ACAD. SCIENT. SUEC.” stands for The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Nobel Prize Medal for Physics and Chemistry was designed by Erik Lindberg.

Interesting Facts

John Bardeen is the only person who has received the Nobel Prize in Physics twice. Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize twice, once in Physics and once in Chemistry.

There are only two women among the Nobel Physics laureates.
1903 – Marie Curie (also awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.)
1963 – Maria Goeppert-Mayer

To date, the youngest Nobel Laureate in Physics is Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 years old when he was awarded the Prize with his father in 1915. Bragg is not only the youngest Physics Laureate, he is also the youngest Nobel Laureate in any Prize area.

The oldest Nobel Laureate in Physics to date is Raymond Davis Jr., who was 88 years old when he was awarded the Prize in 2002.

There have been no posthumous Nobel Prizes in Physics. From 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, unless death has occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. Before 1974, the Nobel Prize has only been awarded posthumously twice: to Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize 1961) and Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931).

Married couples: Marie Curie and Pierre Curie were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903. Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize a second time in 1911, this time receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Father & son: (All awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.)
William Bragg and Lawrence Bragg, 1915
Niels Bohr, 1922 and Aage N. Bohr, 1975
Manne Siegbahn, 1924 and Kai M. Siegbahn, 1981
J. J. Thomson, 1906 and George Paget Thomson, 1937

Mother & daughter: Marie Curie’s daughter Irène Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry but in this article we are focused on the Nobel Physics prizes.

Nobel Laureates in Physics

2017 – Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish, Kip S. Thorne

“for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”. Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017

Also see these articles for historical background:


2016David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane, J. Michael Kosterlitz

“for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”. Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2016

2015Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald

“for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”.  Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2015

2014Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, Shuji Nakamura

“for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”. Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 

2013François Englert and Peter W. Higgs

“for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider” Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013

2012Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland

“for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”   Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2012

2011Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, Adam G. Riess

“for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae”   Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2011

2010Andre Geim, Konstantin Novoselov

“for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”

2009Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle, George E. Smith

“for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication”
“for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor”

2008Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Maskawa

“for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics”

“for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature”

2007Albert Fert, Peter Grünberg

“for the discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance”

2006John C. Mather, George F. Smoot

“for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation”

2005Roy J. Glauber, John L. Hall, Theodor W. Hänsch

“for his [Roy J. Glauber] contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence”

“for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique”

2004David J. Gross, H. David Politzer, Frank Wilczek

“for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction”

2003Alexei A. Abrikosov, Vitaly L. Ginzburg, Anthony J. Leggett

“for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids”

2002Raymond Davis Jr., Masatoshi Koshiba, Riccardo Giacconi

“for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos” (R.Davis)

“for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources”

2001Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, Carl E. Wieman

“for the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates”

2000Zhores I. Alferov, Herbert Kroemer, Jack S. Kilby

“for basic work on information and communication technology”

“for developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed- and opto-electronics”

“for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit” (J.S.Kilby)

1999Gerardus ‘t Hooft, Martinus J.G. Veltman

“for elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics”

1998Robert B. Laughlin, Horst L. Störmer, Daniel C. Tsui

“for their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations”

1997Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, William D. Phillips

“for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light”

1996David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff, Robert C. Richardson

“for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3”

1995Martin L. Perl, Frederick Reines

“for pioneering experimental contributions to lepton physics”

“for the discovery of the tau lepton”

“for the detection of the neutrino”

1994Bertram N. Brockhouse, Clifford G. Shull

“for pioneering contributions to the development of neutron scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter”

“for the development of neutron spectroscopy”

“for the development of the neutron diffraction technique”

1993Russell A. Hulse, Joseph H. Taylor Jr.

“for the discovery of a new type of pulsar, a discovery that has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation”

1992Georges Charpak

“for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber”

1991Pierre-Gilles de Gennes

“for discovering that methods developed for studying order phenomena in simple systems can be generalized to more complex forms of matter, in particular to liquid crystals and polymers”

1990Jerome I. Friedman, Henry W. Kendall, Richard E. Taylor

“for their pioneering investigations concerning deep inelastic scattering of electrons on protons and bound neutrons, which have been of essential importance for the development of the quark model in particle physics”

1989Norman F. Ramsey, Hans G. Dehmelt, Wolfgang Paul

“for the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method and its use in the hydrogen maser and other atomic clocks”

“for the development of the ion trap technique”

1988Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz, Jack Steinberger

“for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino”

1987J. Georg Bednorz, K. Alex Müller

“for their important break-through in the discovery of superconductivity in ceramic materials”

1986Ernst Ruska, Gerd Binnig, Heinrich Rohrer

“for his fundamental work in electron optics, and for the design of the first electron microscope” (E.Ruska)

“for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope” (G.Binning, H. Rohrer)

1985Klaus von Klitzing

“for the discovery of the quantized Hall effect”

1984Carlo Rubbia, Simon van der Meer

“for their decisive contributions to the large project, which led to the discovery of the field particles W and Z, communicators of weak interaction”

1983Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, William A. Fowler

“for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars” (S.Chandrasekhar)

“for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe” (W.A.Fowler)

1982Kenneth G. Wilson

“for his theory for critical phenomena in connection with phase transitions”

1981Nicolaas Bloembergen, Arthur L. Schawlow, Kai M. Siegbahn

“for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy”

“for his contribution to the development of high-resolution electron spectroscopy” (K.M.Seigbahn)

1980James Cronin, Val Fitch

“for the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons”

1979Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam, Steven Weinberg

“for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current”

1978Pyotr Kapitsa, Arno Penzias, Robert Woodrow Wilson

“for his basic inventions and discoveries in the area of low-temperature physics” (P.Kapitsa)

“for their discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation”

1977Philip W. Anderson, Sir Nevill F. Mott, John H. van Vleck

“for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems”

1976Burton Richter, Samuel C.C. Ting

“for their pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle of a new kind”

1975Aage N. Bohr, Ben R. Mottelson, James Rainwater

“for the discovery of the connection between collective motion and particle motion in atomic nuclei and the development of the theory of the structure of the atomic nucleus based on this connection”

1974Martin Ryle, Antony Hewish

“for their pioneering research in radio astrophysics: Ryle for his observations and inventions, in particular of the aperture synthesis technique, and Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars”

1973Leo Esaki, Ivar Giaever, Brian D. Josephson

“for their experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in semiconductors and superconductors, respectively”

“for his theoretical predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier, in particular those phenomena which are generally known as the Josephson effects” (B.D. Josephson)

1972John Bardeen, Leon N. Cooper, Robert Schrieffer

“for their jointly developed theory of superconductivity, usually called the BCS-theory”

1971Dennis Gabor

“for his invention and development of the holographic method”

1970Hannes Alfvén, Louis Néel

“for fundamental work and discoveries in magnetohydro- dynamics with fruitful applications in different parts of plasma physics”

“for fundamental work and discoveries concerning antiferromagnetism and ferrimagnetism which have led to important applications in solid state physics”

1969Murray Gell-Mann

“for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions”

1968Luis Alvarez

“for his decisive contributions to elementary particle physics, in particular the discovery of a large number of resonance states, made possible through his development of the technique of using hydrogen bubble chamber and data analysis”

1967Hans Bethe

“for his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars”

1966Alfred Kastler

“for the discovery and development of optical methods for studying Hertzian resonances in atoms”

1965Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, Julian Schwinger, Richard P. Feynman

“for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles”

1964Charles H. Townes, Nicolay G. Basov, Aleksandr M. Prokhorov

“for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle”

1963Eugene Wigner, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, J. Hans D. Jensen

“for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles”

“for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure”

1962Lev Landau

“for his pioneering theories for condensed matter, especially liquid helium”

1961Robert Hofstadter, Rudolf Mössbauer

“for his pioneering studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei and for his thereby achieved discoveries concerning the structure of the nucleons”

“for his researches concerning the resonance absorption of gamma radiation and his discovery in this connection of the effect which bears his name”

1960Donald A. Glaser

“for the invention of the bubble chamber”

1959Emilio Segrè, Owen Chamberlain

“for their discovery of the antiproton”

1958Pavel A. Cherenkov, Il´ja M. Frank, Igor Y. Tamm

“for the discovery and the interpretation of the Cherenkov effect”

1957Chen Ning Yang, Tsung-Dao Lee

“for their penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles”

1956William B. Shockley, John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain

“for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect”

1955Willis E. Lamb, Polykarp Kusch

“for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum”

“for his precision determination of the magnetic moment of the electron”

1954Max Born, Walther Bothe

“for his fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially for his statistical interpretation of the wavefunction”

“for the coincidence method and his discoveries made therewith”

1953Frits Zernike

“for his demonstration of the phase contrast method, especially for his invention of the phase contrast microscope”

1952Felix Bloch, E. M. Purcell

“for their development of new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements and discoveries in connection therewith”

1951John Cockcroft, Ernest T.S. Walton

“for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles”

1950Cecil Powell

“for his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method”

1949Hideki Yukawa

“for his prediction of the existence of mesons on the basis of theoretical work on nuclear forces”

1948Patrick M.S. Blackett

“for his development of the Wilson cloud chamber method, and his discoveries therewith in the fields of nuclear physics and cosmic radiation”

1947Edward V. Appleton

“for his investigations of the physics of the upper atmosphere especially for the discovery of the so-called Appleton layer”

1946Percy W. Bridgman

“for the invention of an apparatus to produce extremely high pressures, and for the discoveries he made therewith in the field of high pressure physics”

1945Wolfgang Pauli

“for the discovery of the Exclusion Principle, also called the Pauli Principle”

1944Isidor Isaac Rabi

“for his resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei”

1943Otto Stern

“for his contribution to the development of the molecular ray method and his discovery of the magnetic moment of the proton”

1942 – No prize awarded

1941 – No prize awarded

1940 – No prize awarded

1939Ernest Lawrence

“for the invention and development of the cyclotron and for results obtained with it, especially with regard to artificial radioactive elements”

1938Enrico Fermi

“for his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons”

1937Clinton Davisson, George Paget Thomson

“for their experimental discovery of the diffraction of electrons by crystals”

1936Victor F. Hess, Carl D. Anderson

“for his discovery of cosmic radiation”

“for his discovery of the positron”

1935James Chadwick

“for the discovery of the neutron”

1934 – No prize awarded

1933Erwin Schrödinger, Paul A.M. Dirac

“for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory”

1932Werner Heisenberg

“for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, inter alia, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen”

1931 – No prize awarded

1930Sir Venkata Raman

“for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him”

1929Louis de Broglie

“for his discovery of the wave nature of electrons”

1928Owen Willans Richardson

“for his work on the thermionic phenomenon and especially for the discovery of the law named after him”

1927Arthur H. Compton, C.T.R. Wilson

“for his discovery of the effect named after him”

“for his method of making the paths of electrically charged particles visible by condensation of vapour”

1926Jean Baptiste Perrin

“for his work on the discontinuous structure of matter, and especially for his discovery of sedimentation equilibrium”

1925James Franck, Gustav Hertz

“for their discovery of the laws governing the impact of an electron upon an atom”

1924Manne Siegbahn

“for his discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy”

1923Robert A. Millikan

“for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect”

1922Niels Bohr

“for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them”

1921Albert Einstein

“for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”

1920Charles Edouard Guillaume

“in recognition of the service he has rendered to precision measurements in Physics by his discovery of anomalies in nickel steel alloys”

1919Johannes Stark

“for his discovery of the Doppler effect in canal rays and the splitting of spectral lines in electric fields”

1918Max Planck

“in recognition of the services he rendered to the advancement of Physics by his discovery of energy quanta”

1917Charles Glover Barkla

“for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements”

1916 – No prize awarded

1915William Bragg, Lawrence Bragg

“for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays”

1914Max von Laue

“for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays by crystals”

1913Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

“for his investigations on the properties of matter at low temperatures which led, inter alia, to the production of liquid helium”

1912Gustaf Dalén

“for his invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys”

1911Wilhelm Wien

“for his discoveries regarding the laws governing the radiation of heat”

1910Johannes Diderik van der Waals

“for his work on the equation of state for gases and liquids”

1909Guglielmo Marconi, Ferdinand Braun

“in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”

1908Gabriel Lippmann

“for his method of reproducing colours photographically based on the phenomenon of interference”

1907Albert A. Michelson

“for his optical precision instruments and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations carried out with their aid”

1906J.J. Thomson

“in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases”

1905Philipp Lenard

“for his work on cathode rays”

1904Lord Rayleigh

“for his investigations of the densities of the most important gases and for his discovery of argon in connection with these studies”

1903Henri Becquerel, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie

“in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity”

“in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel”

1902Hendrik A. Lorentz, Pieter Zeeman

“in recognition of the extraordinary service they rendered by their researches into the influence of magnetism upon radiation phenomena”

1901Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

“in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him”

About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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