Slate on Women Who Deserve a Physics Nobel

The announcements of this year’s Nobel Prizes have already begun. The physics prize is expected to be announced within the next day or so.

Slate has an article naming some women who they think would deserve a Nobel Prize in physics. The prize has only gone to men for the past 50 years. Among the people they mention are Vera Rubin, who pioneered the use of galaxy rotation curves to find one of the most  important pieces of evidence for dark matter, and MIT professor Millie Dresselhaus. Realistically, Rubin likely won’t have much of a chance of winning until someone makes a definitive discovery of dark matter and even then, there are many people who might have a shot at a piece of a dark matter prize.

There are probably a lot of reasons why the prize has only gone to men for the last 50 years, but I would guess that they largely stem from the large gender imbalance within the field, particularly at higher level positions and among older physicists who are most likely to win the prize. Prizes often go to lab heads and PIs, who aren’t necessarily (and probably usually aren’t) the ones who actually do the most important parts of the work. According to the article, the fraction of women who get PhDs in physics  in the US has increased about tenfold since the 60s (to 20%, which is still one of the lowest numbers in major academic fields). Similar increases have probably occurred in many other countries, so we may start seeing more women winning the prize as more women become PIs.