Nobel Prize in Physics: 1901-Present

An illustration of gravitational waves.
An illustration of gravitational waves. (Image credit: NASA)

According to Alfred Nobel's will, the Nobel Prize in Physics was to go to "the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics." The prize has been awarded every year except for 1916, 1931, 1934, 1940, 1941 and 1942.

Here is the full list of winners:

2023: Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier won the 2023 prize for devising a way to generate pulses of light measured in attoseconds — one quintillionth of a second. An attosecond is to a second what a second is to the age of the universe, a miniscule slice of time so short that it can be used to peer at the movements of electrons and molecules.

2022:  American physicist John Clauser, French physicist Alain Aspect and Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger each shared the 2022 prize "for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science,” according to the Nobel Prize organization.  Their work demonstrated that what Einstein so famously dubbed "spooky action at a distance" is real and laid the groundwork for early quantum computers.

2021: The 2021 Nobel prize went to three scientists whose work alerted the world to the dangers of climate change.  The prize was awarded for "for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems." Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann shared one-half of the prize "for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming" while Giorgio Parisi won the other half "for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales."

2020:  The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 was divided amongst a trio of black hole researchers. One half of the award went to Roger Penrose, "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity", while Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez jointly shared the other half "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy" 

2019: Canadian-American James Peebles of Princeton University received one-half of the Nobel "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. The other half of the prize was awarded jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star," the Academy said. Mayor is a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and Queloz is at both the University of Geneva and the University of Cambridge in the U.K. 

Together, the trio won the Nobel "for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos," the Academy said.

2018: Arthur Ashkin was awarded one half of the prize, and the other half was awarded jointly to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou, "for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics." This was the first time in 55 years that a woman was part of the Nobel Prize in physics. [Read more about the 2018 prize and Nobel Laureates]

2017: Half of the 9 million Swedish krona ($1.1 million) award went to Rainer Weiss of MIT. The other half was shared jointly to Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of Caltech. The prize honored the trio's "decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves," according to The three scientists were integral in the first detection of the ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. The waves in this case came from the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago. 

2016: One half was awarded to David J. Thouless, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and the other half to F. Duncan M. Haldane, Princeton University, and J. Michael Kosterlitz, Brown University, Providence. Their theoretical discoveries opened the door to a weird world where matter can take on strange states. According to the Nobel Foundation: "Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics."

2015: Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald for showing the metamorphosis of neutrinos, which revealed that the subatomic particles have mass and opened up a new realm in particle physics.

2014: Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for their invention of an energy-efficient light source: blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

2013: Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom and François Englert of Belgium, two of the scientists who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson nearly 50 years ago. [Related: Higgs Boson Physicists Snag Nobel Prize]

2012: French physicist Serge Haroche and American physicist David Wineland, for their pioneering research in quantum optics.

2011: One half awarded to Saul Perlmutter, the other half jointly to Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess, "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae."

2010: Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene."

2009: Charles K. Kao, "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication," and Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, "for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor."

2008: Yoichiro Nambu, "for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics," and Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Maskawa, "for the discovery of the origin of the broken symmetry which predicts the existence of at least three families of quarks in nature."

2007: Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg, "for the discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance"

2006: John C. Mather and George F. Smoot, "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation."

2005: Roy J. Glauber, "for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence," and John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch, "for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique."

2004: David J. Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek, "for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction."

2003: Alexei A. Abrikosov, Vitaly L. Ginzburg and Anthony J. Leggett, "for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids."

2002: Raymond Davis Jr. and Masatoshi Koshiba, "for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos," and Riccardo Giacconi, "for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, which have led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources."

2001: Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle and 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."

2000: Zhores I. Alferov and Herbert Kroemer, "for developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed- and opto-electronics," and Jack S. Kilby "for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit."

1999: Gerardus 't Hooft and Martinus J.G. Veltman, "for elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics."

1998: Robert B. Laughlin, Horst L. Störmer and Daniel C. Tsui, "for their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations."

1997: Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips, "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."

1996: David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff and Robert C. Richardson, "for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3."

1995: Martin L. Perl, "for the discovery of the tau lepton," and Frederick Reines, "for the detection of the neutrino."

1994: Bertram N. Brockhouse, "for the development of neutron spectroscopy," and Clifford G. Shull, "for the development of the neutron diffraction technique."

1993: Russell A. Hulse and 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."

1992: Georges Charpak, "for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber."

1991: Pierre-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."

1990: Jerome I. Friedman, Henry W. Kendall and 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."

1989: Norman F. Ramsey, "for the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method and its use in the hydrogen maser and other atomic clocks," and Hans G. Dehmelt and Wolfgang Paul, "for the development of the ion trap technique."

1988: Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, "for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino."

1987: J. Georg Bednorz and K. Alexander Müller, "for their important break-through in the discovery of superconductivity in ceramic materials."

1986: Ernst Ruska, "for his fundamental work in electron optics, and for the design of the first electron microscope," and Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, "for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope."

1985: Klaus von Klitzing, "for the discovery of the quantized Hall effect".

1984: Carlo Rubbia and 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."

1983: Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, "for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars," and William Alfred Fowler, "for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe."

1982: Kenneth G. Wilson, "for his theory for critical phenomena in connection with phase transitions."

1981: Nicolaas Bloembergen and Arthur Leonard Schawlow, "for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy," and Kai M. Siegbahn, "for his contribution to the development of high-resolution electron spectroscopy."

1980: James Watson Cronin and Val Logsdon Fitch, "for the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons."

1979: Sheldon Lee Glashow, Abdus Salam and 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."

1978: Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa, "for his basic inventions and discoveries in the area of low-temperature physics," and Arno Allan Penzias, Robert Woodrow Wilson "for their discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation."

1977: Philip Warren Anderson, Sir Nevill Francis Mott and John Hasbrouck van Vleck, "for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems."

1976: Burton Richter and Samuel Chao Chung Ting, "for their pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle of a new kind."

1975: Aage Niels Bohr, Ben Roy Mottelson and Leo 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."

1974: Sir Martin Ryle and 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."

1973: Leo Esaki and Ivar Giaever, for "for their experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in semiconductors and superconductors, respectively," and Brian David Josephson, "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."

1972: John Bardeen, Leon Neil Cooper, John Robert Schrieffer, "for their jointly developed theory of superconductivity, usually called the BCS-theory."

1971: Dennis Gabor, "for his invention and development of the holographic method."

1970: Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén, "for fundamental work and discoveries in magnetohydro- dynamics with fruitful applications in different parts of plasma physics," and Louis Eugène Félix Néel, "for fundamental work and discoveries concerning antiferromagnetism and ferrimagnetism which have led to important applications in solid state physics."

1969: Murray Gell-Mann, "for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions."

1968: Luis Walter 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."

1967: Hans Albrecht Bethe, "for his contributions to the theory of nuclear reactions, especially his discoveries concerning the energy production in stars."

1966: Alfred Kastler, "for the discovery and development of optical methods for studying Hertzian resonances in atoms."

1965: Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, Julian Schwinger and Richard P. Feynman, "for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles."

1964: Charles Hard Townes, "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," and Nicolay Gennadiyevich Basov and Aleksandr Mikhailovich 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."

1963: Eugene Paul Wigner, "for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles," and Maria Goeppert-Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen, "for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure."

1962: Lev Davidovich Landau, "for his pioneering theories for condensed matter, especially liquid helium."

1961: Robert Hofstadter, "for his pioneering studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei and for his thereby achieved discoveries concerning the structure of the nucleons," and Rudolf Ludwig Mössbauer, "for his researches concerning the resonance absorption of gamma radiation and his discovery in this connection of the effect which bears his name."

1960: Donald Arthur Glaser, "for the invention of the bubble chamber."

1959: Emilio Gino Segrè and Owen Chamberlain, "for their discovery of the antiproton."

1958: Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov, Il´ja Mikhailovich Frank and Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm, "for the discovery and the interpretation of the Cherenkov effect."

1957: Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao (T.D.) Lee, "for their penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles."

1956: William Bradford Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain, "for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect."

1955: Willis Eugene Lamb, "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum," and Polykarp Kusch, "for his precision determination of the magnetic moment of the electron."

1954: Max Born, "for his fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially for his statistical interpretation of the wavefunction," and Walther Bothe, "for the coincidence method and his discoveries made therewith."

1953: Frits (Frederik) Zernike, "for his demonstration of the phase contrast method, especially for his invention of the phase contrast microscope."

1952: Felix Bloch and Edward Mills Purcell, "for their development of new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements and discoveries in connection therewith."

1951: Sir John Douglas Cockcroft and Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, "for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles."

1950: Cecil Frank Powell, "for his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method."

1949: Hideki Yukawa, "for his prediction of the existence of mesons on the basis of theoretical work on nuclear forces."

1948: Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, "for his development of the Wilson cloud chamber method, and his discoveries therewith in the fields of nuclear physics and cosmic radiation."

1947: Sir Edward Victor Appleton, "for his investigations of the physics of the upper atmosphere especially for the discovery of the so-called Appleton layer."

1946: Percy Williams 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."

1945: Wolfgang Pauli, "for the discovery of the Exclusion Principle, also called the Pauli Principle."

1944: Isidor Isaac Rabi, "for his resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei."

1943: Otto Stern, "for his contribution to the development of the molecular ray method and his discovery of the magnetic moment of the proton."

1940-1942: No Prizes awarded.

1939: Ernest Orlando Lawrence, "for the invention and development of the cyclotron and for results obtained with it, especially with regard to artificial radioactive elements."

1938: Enrico 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."

1937: Clinton Joseph Davisson and George Paget Thomson, "for their experimental discovery of the diffraction of electrons by crystals."

1936: Victor Franz Hess, "for his discovery of cosmic radiation," and Carl David Anderson, "for his discovery of the positron."

1935: James Chadwick, "for the discovery of the neutron."

1934: No Prize awarded

1933: Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory."

1932: Werner Karl 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

1930: Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, "for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him"

1929: Prince Louis-Victor Pierre Raymond de Broglie, "for his discovery of the wave nature of electrons."

1928: Owen Willans Richardson, "for his work on the thermionic phenomenon and especially for the discovery of the law named after him."

1927: Arthur Holly Compton, "for his discovery of the effect named after him," and Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, "for his method of making the paths of electrically charged particles visible by condensation of vapor."

1926: Jean Baptiste Perrin, "for his work on the discontinuous structure of matter, and especially for his discovery of sedimentation equilibrium."

1925: James Franck and Gustav Ludwig Hertz, "for their discovery of the laws governing the impact of an electron upon an atom."

1924: Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn, "for his discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy."

1923: Robert Andrews Millikan, "for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect."

1922: Niels Henrik David Bohr, "for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them."

1921: Albert Einstein, "for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect."

1920: Charles Edouard Guillaume, "in recognition of the service he has rendered to precision measurements in Physics by his discovery of anomalies in nickel steel alloys."

1919: Johannes Stark, "for his discovery of the Doppler effect in canal rays and the splitting of spectral lines in electric fields."

1918: Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, "in recognition of the services he rendered to the advancement of Physics by his discovery of energy quanta."

1917: Charles Glover Barkla, "for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements."

1916: No Prize awarded.

1915: Sir William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg, "for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays."

1914: Max von Laue, "for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays by crystals."

1913: Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, "for his investigations on the properties of matter at low temperatures which led, inter alia, to the production of liquid helium."

1912: Nils Gustaf Dalén, "for his invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys."

1911: Wilhelm Wien, "for his discoveries regarding the laws governing the radiation of heat."

1910: Johannes Diderik van der Waals, "for his work on the equation of state for gases and liquids."

1909: Guglielmo Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun, "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy."

1908: Gabriel Lippmann, "for his method of reproducing colors photographically based on the phenomenon of interference."

1907: Albert Abraham Michelson, "for his optical precision instruments and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations carried out with their aid."

1906: Joseph John Thomson, "in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases."

1905: Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard, "for his work on cathode rays."

1904: Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt), "for his investigations of the densities of the most important gases and for his discovery of argon in connection with these studies."

1903: Antoine Henri Becquerel, " "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity," and Pierre Curie and Marie Curie, née Sklodowska, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel."

1902: Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman, "in recognition of the extraordinary service they rendered by their researches into the influence of magnetism upon radiation phenomena."

1901: Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him."

Live Science Staff
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