For a list of laureates, see List of Nobel laureates in Physics.

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Wilhelm Röntgen (1845–1923), the first recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Nobel Prize in Physics is a yearly award given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for those who have made the most outstanding contributions for mankind in the field of physics. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others being the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to physicist Wilhelm Röntgen in recognition of the extraordinary services he rendered by the discovery of X-rays. This award is administered by the Nobel Foundation and is widely regarded as the most prestigious award that a scientist can receive in physics. It is presented in Stockholm at an annual ceremony on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel's death. Through 2020, a total of 215 individuals have been awarded the prize.[2]


Alfred Nobel, in his last will and testament, stated that his wealth should be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer the "greatest benefit on mankind" in the fields of physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature.[3] Though Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime, the last one was written a year before he died and was signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on 27 November 1895.[4][5] Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million Swedish kronor (US$198 million, Euro€176 million in 2016), to establish and endow the five Nobel Prizes.[6] Owing to the level of skepticism surrounding the will, it was not until April 26, 1897 that it was approved by the Storting (Norwegian Parliament).[7][8] The executors of his will were Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, who formed the Nobel Foundation to take care of Nobel's fortune and organise the prizes.

The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who were to award the Peace Prize were appointed shortly after the will was approved. The prize-awarding organisations followed: the Karolinska Institutet on June 7, the Swedish Academy on June 9, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on June 11.[9][10] The Nobel Foundation then reached an agreement on guidelines for how the Nobel Prize should be awarded. In 1900, the Nobel Foundation's newly created statutes were promulgated by King Oscar II.[8][11] According to Nobel's will, The Royal Swedish Academy of sciences were to award the Prize in Physics.[11]
Nomination and selection
Three Nobel Laureates in Physics. Front row L-R: Albert A. Michelson (1907 prizewinner), Albert Einstein (1921 prizewinner) and Robert A. Millikan (1923 prizewinner).

A maximum of three Nobel laureates and two different works may be selected for the Nobel Prize in Physics.[12][13] Compared with other Nobel Prizes, the nomination and selection process for the prize in Physics is long and rigorous. This is a key reason why it has grown in importance over the years to become the most important prize in Physics.[14]

The Nobel laureates are selected by the Nobel Committee for Physics, a Nobel Committee that consists of five members elected by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In the first stage that begins in September, around 3,000 people – selected university professors, Nobel Laureates in Physics and Chemistry, etc. – are sent confidential forms to nominate candidates. The completed nomination forms arrive at the Nobel Committee no later than 31 January of the following year. These nominees are scrutinized and discussed by experts who narrow it to approximately fifteen names. The committee submits a report with recommendations on the final candidates into the Academy, where, in the Physics Class, it is further discussed. The Academy then makes the final selection of the Laureates in Physics through a majority vote.[15]

The names of the nominees are never publicly announced, and neither are they told that they have been considered for the prize. Nomination records are sealed for fifty years.[16] While posthumous nominations are not permitted, awards can be made if the individual died in the months between the decision of the prize committee (typically in October) and the ceremony in December. Prior to 1974, posthumous awards were permitted if the recipient had died after being nominated.[17]

The rules for the Nobel Prize in Physics require that the significance of achievements being recognized has been "tested by time". In practice, it means that the lag between the discovery and the award is typically on the order of 20 years and can be much longer. For example, half of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar for his work on stellar structure and evolution that was done during the 1930s. As a downside of this tested-by-time rule, not all scientists live long enough for their work to be recognized. Some important scientific discoveries are never considered for a prize, as the discoverers die by the time the impact of their work is appreciated.[18][19]

A Physics Nobel Prize laureate earns a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation, and a sum of money.[20]

The Nobel Prize medals, minted by Myntverket[21] in Sweden and the Mint of Norway since 1902, are registered trademarks of the Nobel Foundation. Each medal has an image of Alfred Nobel in left profile on the obverse. The Nobel Prize medals for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature have identical obverses, showing the image of Alfred Nobel and the years of his birth and death (1833–1896). Nobel's portrait also appears on the obverse of the Nobel Peace Prize medal and the Medal for the Prize in Economics, but with a slightly different design.[22][23] The image on the reverse of a medal varies according to the institution awarding the prize. The reverse sides of the Nobel Prize medals for Chemistry and Physics share the same design of Nature, as a Goddess, whose veil is held up by the Genius of Science. These medals, along with those for Physiology/Medicine and Literature, were designed by Erik Lindberg in 1902.[24]
1903 Nobel Prize diploma, awarded to Marie Curie and Pierre Curie

Nobel laureates receive a diploma directly from the hands of the King of Sweden. Each diploma is uniquely designed by the prize-awarding institutions for the laureate who receives it.[25] The diploma contains a picture and text which states the name of the laureate and normally a citation of why they received the prize.[25]
Award money

At the awards ceremony, the laureate is given a document indicating the award sum. The amount of the cash award may differ from year to year, based on the funding available from the Nobel Foundation. For example, in 2009 the total cash awarded was 10 million SEK (US$1.4 million),[26] but in 2012, the amount was 8 million Swedish Kronor, or US$1.1 million.[27] If there are two laureates in a particular category, the award grant is divided equally between the recipients, but if there are three, the awarding committee may opt to divide the grant equally, or award half to one recipient and a quarter to each of the two others.[28][29][30][31]

The committee and institution serving as the selection board for the prize typically announce the names of the laureates in October. The prize is then awarded at formal ceremonies held annually in Stockholm Concert Hall on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel's death. The laureates receive a diploma, a medal and a document confirming the prize amount.[32]
See also

Fundamental Physics Prize
List of physics awards
Sakurai Prize, presented by the American Physical Society
Wolf Prize in Physics


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After Nobel’s death, the Nobel Foundation was set up to carry out the provisions of his will and to administer his funds. In his will, he had stipulated that four different institutions—three Swedish and one Norwegian—should award the prizes. From Stockholm, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences confers the prizes for physics, chemistry, and economics, the Karolinska Institute confers the prize for physiology or medicine, and the Swedish Academy confers the prize for literature. The Norwegian Nobel Committee based in Oslo confers the prize for peace. The Nobel Foundation is the legal owner and functional administrator of the funds and serves as the joint administrative body of the prize-awarding institutions, but it is not concerned with the prize deliberations or decisions, which rest exclusively with the four institutions. "Facts and figures". Retrieved May 4, 2015.
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Friedman, Robert Marc (2001). The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science. New York & Stuttgart: VHPS (Times Books). ISBN 0-7167-3103-7, ISBN 978-0-7167-3103-0.
Hillebrand, Claus D. (June 2002). "Nobel Century: A Biographical Analysis of Physics Laureates". Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 27.2: 87–93.
Schmidhuber, Jürgen (2010). Evolution of National Nobel Prize Shares in the 20th Century at arXiv:1009.2634v1 with graphics: National Physics Nobel Prize shares 1901–2009 by citizenship at the time of the award and by country of birth.
Lemmel, Birgitta. "The Nobel Prize Medals and the Medal for the Prize in Economics". Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2006. (An article on the history of the design of the medals.)

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Laureates of the Nobel Prize in Physics

1901: Röntgen 1902: Lorentz / Zeeman 1903: Becquerel / P. Curie / M. Curie 1904: Rayleigh 1905: Lenard 1906: J. J. Thomson 1907: Michelson 1908: Lippmann 1909: Marconi / Braun 1910: Van der Waals 1911: Wien 1912: Dalén 1913: Kamerlingh Onnes 1914: Laue 1915: W. L. Bragg / W. H. Bragg 1916 1917: Barkla 1918: Planck 1919: Stark 1920: Guillaume 1921: Einstein 1922: N. Bohr 1923: Millikan 1924: M. Siegbahn 1925: Franck / Hertz


1926: Perrin 1927: Compton / C. Wilson 1928: O. Richardson 1929: De Broglie 1930: Raman 1931 1932: Heisenberg 1933: Schrödinger / Dirac 1934 1935: Chadwick 1936: Hess / C. D. Anderson 1937: Davisson / G. P. Thomson 1938: Fermi 1939: Lawrence 1940 1941 1942 1943: Stern 1944: Rabi 1945: Pauli 1946: Bridgman 1947: Appleton 1948: Blackett 1949: Yukawa 1950: Powell


1951: Cockcroft / Walton 1952: Bloch / Purcell 1953: Zernike 1954: Born / Bothe 1955: Lamb / Kusch 1956: Shockley / Bardeen / Brattain 1957: C. N. Yang / T. D. Lee 1958: Cherenkov / Frank / Tamm 1959: Segrè / Chamberlain 1960: Glaser 1961: Hofstadter / Mössbauer 1962: Landau 1963: Wigner / Goeppert Mayer / Jensen 1964: Townes / Basov / Prokhorov 1965: Tomonaga / Schwinger / Feynman 1966: Kastler 1967: Bethe 1968: Alvarez 1969: Gell-Mann 1970: Alfvén / Néel 1971: Gabor 1972: Bardeen / Cooper / Schrieffer 1973: Esaki / Giaever / Josephson 1974: Ryle / Hewish 1975: A. Bohr / Mottelson / Rainwater


1976: Richter / Ting 1977: P. W. Anderson / Mott / Van Vleck 1978: Kapitsa / Penzias / R. Wilson 1979: Glashow / Salam / Weinberg 1980: Cronin / Fitch 1981: Bloembergen / Schawlow / K. Siegbahn 1982: K. Wilson 1983: Chandrasekhar / Fowler 1984: Rubbia / Van der Meer 1985: von Klitzing 1986: Ruska / Binnig / Rohrer 1987: Bednorz / Müller 1988: Lederman / Schwartz / Steinberger 1989: Ramsey / Dehmelt / Paul 1990: Friedman / Kendall / R. Taylor 1991: de Gennes 1992: Charpak 1993: Hulse / J. Taylor 1994: Brockhouse / Shull 1995: Perl / Reines 1996: D. Lee / Osheroff / R. Richardson 1997: Chu / Cohen-Tannoudji / Phillips 1998: Laughlin / Störmer / Tsui 1999: 't Hooft / Veltman 2000: Alferov / Kroemer / Kilby


2001: Cornell / Ketterle / Wieman 2002: Davis / Koshiba / Giacconi 2003: Abrikosov / Ginzburg / Leggett 2004: Gross / Politzer / Wilczek 2005: Glauber / Hall / Hänsch 2006: Mather / Smoot 2007: Fert / Grünberg 2008: Nambu / Kobayashi / Maskawa 2009: Kao / Boyle / Smith 2010: Geim / Novoselov 2011: Perlmutter / Riess / Schmidt 2012: Wineland / Haroche 2013: Englert / Higgs 2014: Akasaki / Amano / Nakamura 2015: Kajita / McDonald 2016: Thouless / Haldane / Kosterlitz 2017: Weiss / Barish / Thorne 2018: Ashkin / Mourou / Strickland 2019: Peebles / Mayor / Queloz 2020: Penrose / Genzel / Ghez


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