After nearly three years with a global pandemic that everyone thought would be over in a matter of months, the world is starting to recover and return to some semblance of normalcy. And for the scientific community, a significant part of that normalcy is the annual Nobel Prizes, which are set to be announced in the next few days. 

As with the past two years, it is quite difficult to predict who will win this year. The scientific community saw many smaller advances, but did not see a major breakthrough in recent years as we did with the Higgs discovery or the confirmation of gravitational waves. Most of the most interesting and significant theories in modern physics are not yet confirmed, and therefore ineligible for the big prize.

Which leads me neatly into my usual comments on which theories and potential candidates will not be receiving a prize this year, simply due to the odd rules imposed by Alfred Nobel.

Every year when I make my predictions, I have readers from outside of the scientific community complain that I "forgot" to list certain people. (The exact names and theories are not important). And so once more I feel that I should remind everyone that by the rules of the Nobel Prize, the award can only go to living recipients, which immediately excludes many amazing theories and deserving scientists. The Nobel rules also forbid the prize from being awarded to more than three people, which immediately excludes larger groups and collaborations from consideration, unless they have a clear leader.

The committee also tends to be very conservative in terms of awarding the prize to ideas that have been so well proven experimentally that there is no doubt that they are true. This eliminates most of the theoretical physics community immediately. For example, although most physicists agree that the theory of cosmic inflation and the existence of dark matter are both true, neither has been verified experimentally to a sufficient level to justify a Nobel Prize.

So then the question each year is, who will win the biggest prize of all?

And that is actually a very difficult question this year, because there are no obvious candidates. We didn't have a major advance in science this year on the level of gravitational waves or the Higgs boson. There is still a slim chance that the people who discovered dark energy twenty years ago could earn a prize, since the existence of dark energy has been confirmed by multiple supernovae surveys and by observations of the cosmic microwave background. However in my opinion, the lack of a universally accepted explanation for what dark energy is and why it exists will exclude this possibility. There are also some interesting candidates in the field of astronomy, such as the direct imaging of exoplanets by the James Webb Telescope or perhaps some of the recent work on high energy gamma rays and cosmic rays, but these do not seem to be at the level of importance necessary for a Nobel Prize. (And in the case of the JWST, the restrictions on giving the Nobel Prize to a team makes them unlikely to receive the award anyway)

In my opinion, the committee will probably give this year's prize to a technological advance instead of a purely scientific advance. It has happened before, with the Nobel committee recognizing the development of the microchip, the invention of CCD and CMOS detectors that are used in all modern cameras, and even the invention of the white LED that has become common in energy efficient lighting. I do not know, and would not dare to guess which technology they would recognize with a Nobel prize, but my instinct right now is that that will be the area that they have been looking at. There is a small chance that some of the pioneers in quantum computing might receive it, as the inventors of the microchip did a little over a decade ago, but I don't think the committee will recognize that field until the machines are more powerful and more ubiquitous.

Whichever idea earns a Nobel Prize this year, we can be certain that it will have been a major achievement and advance in scientific knowledge, and that the recipients will be very deserving of it. Whether it is an advance in pure science, or in technology, it will be something that has changed our understanding of the world.

For tonight all we can do is speculate and wait for the committee to make their announcement.