It is that time of year again - the week of the Nobel Prize announcements!

As usual, there is a significant amount of discussion and debate in the scientific community as to who will receive this year's prizes. And also as so often happens, there is no clear frontrunner for the prize this year.

Before I start making predictions though, I must take a moment to make clear who will not be winning. After last year's predictions I received a few communications from people who were unhappy that their favoured candidates were not in my list of predictions, and some even went so far as to accuse me and other science bloggers of deliberately ignoring individuals that the authors believe should receive the prize. 

What these individuals do not realize is that the Nobel Prize has some odd conditions on it, and many of the scientists that have been discussed as deserving the award are simply not eligible. First and foremost in the rules is that all recipients must be alive when the Nobel Prize is awarded. There are many brilliant scientists who have produced important theories and made discoveries that are critical to our understanding of nature, but if they are not blessed with long life they are not eligible. And considering that more often than not the Nobel recognizes research conducted many decades earlier, by people who were already at the peak of their career at the time, the majority of candidates for the prize simply do not live long enough. 

The second condition is that the Nobel Prize can only be given to individuals, not groups, and only to a maximum of three recipients. If a major discovery cannot be attributed to a handful of scientists working on their own, it won't receive a Nobel Prize. That means that all of the great work done by NASA, ESA, LHC, and countless other lettered organizations will be ignored by the prize committee. It also means that quite often if a major discovery or theory was developed by separately by several people, and some of the key figures have died, the survivors will also be overlooked. It is also uncommon for the prize to be awarded to a graduate student or research assistant, no matter how much they contributed to final results.

And finally the third, more informal constraint on the Nobel Prize is that the committee is very conservative in awarding the prize to theories and discoveries that still have some uncertainty in them or may eventually be disproven. The Higgs model was accepted by the physics community for five decades before receiving the prize, while theories such as dark matter and cosmic inflation will likely be ignored until multiple experiments have detected and confirmed their existence and ruled out all the alternatives.

Unfortunately when all of the constraints and restrictions are taken into account, there are actually very few serious contenders for the Nobel Prize this year. However the few that remain are quite interesting, and will be reviewed in the following article.