Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

It’s been 50 years now…

Dear Nobel Committee for Physics at the Swedish Academy of Sciences:

I realize, of course, that by now you have probably already made your decision about this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. After all, the award is scheduled to be announced on October 8, which is a mere three weeks from today. Obviously it takes some time to prepare the gold medals and certificates and whatnot, and to write up the press release extolling the achievements of the winners — I’m using the plural here, because you choose more than one laureate in the vast majority of years. And I know you try assiduously to uphold the original intent of Alfred Nobel’s will.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of all the events that happened in 1963, from the good (the “I Have a Dream” speech, the early stages of Beatlemania) to the bad (the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the JFK assassination). The event that’s relevant to this discussion is the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in physics to Maria Goeppert-Mayer (along with two male scientists) for her work on nuclear shell structure.

In other words, this year makes 50 years since a woman received a Nobel in physics. Chemistry and medicine/physiology have had several female laureates in the past half-century — from Dorothy Hodgkin to Carol Greider — but not physics. There have been women who were mysteriously left out (Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Chien-Shiung Wu) and at least one female physicist who won the medicine Nobel (Rosalyn Yalow).

I’m certainly not recommending that a woman get a Nobel in physics just because of her gender — duh! However, every year the world has at least a few more female physicists than the year before, and some of them, somewhere, must have done some Nobel-quality research by now. Please recognize her (or them). Please don’t wait another half-century to name a third physics laureate.

Sincerely yours,

A concerned female holder of a B.S. in physics


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