Which scientists deserved to win a Nobel Prize but never won?

Nobel Prize has the distinction of being the most sought after prize and the fame that it gives for the recipients is incredible. There are many prizes which are older than Nobel Prize (for e.g. Copley Medal of the Royal Society) and also which gives higher prize money than Nobel Prize (for e.g. Breakthrough Prize), yet these prize could not match the glamour of the Nobel prize. Well as a matter of fact, many times it is not the award that a person has received that counts, but the work that one did. For e.g., do you know the person who won the Nobel Prize in 1955? I don’t know, unless I search for it. In the similar manner, do you know what is the contribution of Alfred Kastler towards physics, who has won the Nobel Prize in 1966? My answer to this question will also be no, unless I google it. On the other hand, it is quite known to all people that bosons are name after Satyendra Nath Bose, it was Edwin Hubble who discovered that galaxies are moving away from each other and Ludwig Boltzmann single-handedly created the classical statistical mechanics. This list can go on. So it’s quite clear that, after a long time it is not the medals or awards that will judge one’s discovery/invention- the discovery/ invention itself will speak for its creator.
And also it is strange that Nobel Prize is not awarded in the case of mathematics, which is regarded as “the queen of Science” [as quoted in Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856) by Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen] through which all the benefits of mankind can be achieved (please note that Alfred Nobel’s reads as “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”).
So, the emphasis of this answer is not to tell that how important Nobel prize is, rather I will assume that it is an award worthy of getting some attention from the people. Now, that being said, these are the people whom I deem worthy of awarding the Nobel Prize in Physics, but was not awarded.
  1. Henri Poincaré (1854- 1912):
Photo Courtesy: Henri Poincaré
The ruling out Poincare as a Nobel Prize winner will remain as a permanent blot on Nobel committee. He was nominated for 51 times in a time spanning from 1904 to 1912 [in a single year different nominator can nominate same person and also single nominator can nominate multiple person. That is how in 8 years, he got 51 nominations! See this link also]. To get better understanding of procedure to award Nobel Prize, it is better on look at these being done. Only one thing is has to be specified: The Academy usually approves the recommendations made by Nobel Committee, but it is not mandatory that every time Academy has to accepts the recommendations. During the course of many years, the Academy members really enjoyed in exercising this ‘veto’ power. In 1910, out of the 58 nomination that has been received, Poincaré was nominated by 34 people with a majority of 59%. But, the Nobel Prize in that year went to Johannes Diderik van der Waals, who just got only one nomination (seriously?!). And, this is not first and last time. During time spanning between 1901 and 1966, Academy favoured the majority’s decision only 29 times [see How Nobel favorites have fared]. As to why and how Poincaré didn’t receive the award, I would like to quote from above reference:
Poincaré also failed to secure the support of the most influential committee member, Chairman Svante Arrhenius. Largely to oppose a rival in the academy who had initiated the campaign for Poincaré, Arrhenius pushed the candidacy of countryman Knut Ångström. Even Ångström’s death before the announcement of the prize couldn’t save Poincaré; according to Friedman, Arrhenius just dug up documentation in support of Johannes van der Waals, who had long been dismissed as a candidate and whose critical research had taken place in the 1870s. (Alfred Nobel’s bequest requires that the awards be based on achievements “during the preceding year.”) A single 1910 nomination from Harvard physicist Theodore Richards was all van der Waals needed to win the prize. Poincaré received additional votes before his death in 1912 but never won the Nobel.
2. Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839- 1903):
Photo Courtesy: Josiah Willard Gibbs
His work in mathematics, thermodynamics and related branches has made him one among the foremost scientist. Once Einstein was asked were the greatest men, the most powerful thinkers he had known, he replied, “‘Lorentz,’ and added, ‘I never met Willard Gibbs; perhaps, had I done so, I might have placed him beside Lorentz’” [ Pais, Abraham (1982). Subtle is the Lord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 73]. He was not even nominated for this prize.
3. Ludwig Boltzmann (1844- 1906):
Photo Courtesy: Ludwig Boltzmann
He is mainly known for his pioneering works in statistical mechanics. Boltzmann was the person who uncovered the microscopic meaning of entropy in second law of thermodynamics. Boltzmann also laid foundation for Maxwell- Boltzmann statistics and conceived the idea of Boltzmann equation. Boltzmann could not stand up the criticism from other people, which led to his suicide in 1906. Was nominated in 1903, 1905 and 1906, but has not received the award. The famous Boltzmann equation linking macroscopic entropy to statistics of molecules is engraved in his tomb.
4. Jagdish Chandra Bose (1858- 1937):
Photo Courtesy: Jagdish Chandra BosePhoto of J.C. Bose, centre, with his students Meghnad Saha, J.C. Ghosh (both sitting), S. Dutta (from Left, standing), S.N. Bose, D.M. Bose, N.R. Sen, J.N. Mukherjee and N.C. Nag.
The person who was communicating with plants. He was a polymath who has researched into physics, botany and radio science. He was can be named as the first biophysicist in India (not sure whether there are any other) who found out that plants do indeed have life cycle and invented a instrument called crescograph for measuring the growth in plants. During a November 1894 public demonstration at Town Hall of Kolkata, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimetre range wavelength microwaves, much before Guglielmo Marconi tried to send electromagnetic waves through air. For this reason Bose is sometimes known as father of wireless telecommunication [ see also: the unsung Hero of Radio Communication and http://www.iisc.ernet.in/insa/ch… ]. He also was never nominated for the prize.
5. Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951):
Photo Courtesy: Born, Max. “Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld. 1868-1951.” Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 8.21 (1952): 275-296.
A great pioneer in the field of old quantum theory. Also, a great teacher who has produced a plethora of excellent scientists. He was nominated for a record of 84times in between 1917 and 1951, still academy couldn’t find that he is worthy enough to give award. It is interesting to note that many of his students went on to become Nobel Laurates. Max von Laue was his post graduate student at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) under Sommerfeld. Lau got Nobel in 1914 and he had this strange fate to nominate his teacher for an award that he got- Laue nominated Sommerfeld for 5 time in the time spanning 1917-1933. Don’t worry, Nobel Committee has a reason to tell about this:
he had no single, great achievement that the committee could point to, even though his collective body of work stacked up to those of contemporaries who won the prize [see: How to almost win the physics Nobel ].
Sigh!
6. Lise Meitner (1878–1968):
Photo Courtesy: Frisch, Otto Robert. “Lise Meitner. 1878-1968.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 16 (1970): 405-420.
Famously known as “German Marie Curie” [as called by Einstein]. In 1938, Otto Han and Fritz Strassmann showed that when you bombard Uranium with neutron, element Barium is formed. But it was Meitner and her nephew who interpreted the results correctly, thereby coining the term ‘fission’ in physics for the first time [http://www.ias.ac.in/article/ful…]. Her contribution were abated when Nobel Committee awarded Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Otto Han in 1944 “for his discovery of the fission of heavy nuclei”. She was nominated for 48 times in the time spanning from 1937 to 1948, without any success. Also, one more point worth to note: note that she was Boltzmann’s student.
7. Emmy Noether (1882–1935):
Photo Courtesy: Emmy Noether
Symmetry of mathematical equation gives rise to a conserved quantity. Simple as it sound, this theorem (known as Noether’s theorem) had helped us to sort out various fundamental particles and to identify them. She was highly regarded by Einstein, Hermann Weyl, David Hilbert and Felix Klein. Her application for admission as a faculty to University of Gotteingen created much furore and it led David Hilbert to utter this words:
“I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bath house”.
She, too, was not even nominated for Nobel Prize.
8.Edwin Hubble (1889-1953):
Photo Courtesy: Edwin Hubble
Warning: Smoking is injurious to health.
Ever expanding universe in all the way was a paradigm shifting observation. Edwin Hubble found out this observation using Carnegie Institute’s Mount Wilson Observatory. Though Einstein himself found out that the Universe was expanding using his own theory of relativity, he put forward a factor (cosmological constant) to prove that Universe is static. But Hubble’s observation forced Einstein to accept the fact that Universe is expanding and made him to tell that introduction of cosmological constant was biggest blunder in his life. He got nomination for in 1953, but couldn’t convince the Committee that he is worth for it.
9. Meghnad Saha (1893–1956):
Photo Courtesy: Kothari, D. S. “Meghnad Saha. 1893-1956.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 5 (1960): 217-236.
Let me quote Svein Rosseland, in the introduction to his well-known Theoretical Astrophysics: Atomic Theory and the Analysis of Stellar Atmospheres and Envelopes:
Although Bohr must thus be considered the pioneer in the field [of atomic theory], it was the Indian physicist Meghnad Saha who (1920) first attempted to develop a consistent theory of the spectral sequence of the stars from the point of view of atomic theory. . . . The impetus given to astrophysics by Saha’s work can scarcely be overestimated, as nearly all later progress in this field has been influenced by it and much of the subsequent work has the character of refinements of Saha’s ideas”.
He was nominated by 7 times.
10. Satyendra Nath Bose (1894- 1974):
Photo Courtesy: Satyendra Nath Bose with P. A. M Dirac
The whole world we live is filled with the particle that has been named after him. But academy could see it. He was nominated by in 1956, 1959 and 1962. It is interesting to note that both Saha and Bose was classmates in Presidency College, Calcutta along with P. C. Mahalanobis, where they were taught by J. C. Bose. In the final year exam, Bose came as first and Saha came second. Also, along with Saha, Bose produced the first English translation ever published of relativity papers by Einstein and Minkowski in 1919.
11. L. H. Germer (1896- 1971):
Photo Courtesy: L. H. Germer
Clinton Davisson (left) and Lester Germer (right) with tube used in electron diffraction work, taken at West Street, New York City, New York.
de Broglie suggested, by combining Planck’s law and relativity theory, that matter particle (for e.g. electrons) have wave like properties. The decisive test of this idea was conducted by Davisson and Lester H Germer in USA and independently by G. P Thomson from England in 1927 (ironically G. P Thomson’s father had showed that electrons are particles!). For this path breaking experiments, Davissson and Thomson got Nobel Prize in 1937, but Nobel Committee refused to give it to Germer, though he was nominated along with Germer.
12. George Uhlenbeck (1900-1988)/ Samuel Goudsmit (1908-1978):
Photo Courtesy: Pais, Abraham. George Uhlenbeck and the discovery of electron spin. na, 1989.
Seen in the above picture is George Uhlenbeck (L) with Hendrik Kramers (C) and Samuel Goudsmit (R).
The whole world of elementary particle that now we see has been classified on the basis of spin of fundamental particles. Yet the people who proposed it didn’t get the award. Uhlenbeck was nominated for 47 times and Goudsmit was nominated 48 times yet success eluded them.
13. George Gamow (1904–1968):
Photo Courtesy: My world line- An informal autobiography by George Gamow
The original creator of big bang theory, one of the best popular science writer, a pioneer in QM, nuclear physicist… Gamow was not that much successful in securing the nomination itself: he was nominated for the prize for in 1943 and 1946.
14. Robert H. Dicke (1916-1997) and Jim Peebles (1935- ):
Photo Courtesy: Robert Dicke (up) & James E. Peebles (down)
Cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), which is the electromagnetic radiation left over by big bang, has an interesting story to tell. The extreme hot, dense early universe would have expanded and temperature would have drooped down substantially. Alpher (1921- 2007) and Herman (1919-1997) in 1948 have found that temperature of this thermal background would be 5K. Since their theory could not account for the abundance of other heavier elements, this theory was forgotten. Not knowing this, Dicke and his colleague Peeble carried out the calculation and came to conclusion that the temperature of the radiation will be in the microwave range. As excellent experimentalist, Dicke tried to build a microwave receiver to detect it at Princeton. The success eluded them and it was strange coincidence that another 2 people found it, accidentally. Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson were trying to clear out the noise that they were receiving in their microwave receiver. But seems like, this is not the effect of any other parameters like components of antenna or bird droppings. Penzias discussed this issue with Bernard Burke, who was his colleague radio astronomy, who in turn referred to Dicke. When contacted Robert Dicke, Penzias and Wilson discovered that they were listening to ‘echo’ of big bang, which Robert Dicke carried out theoretical framework and was searching for. Dicke and Peebles was happy that to see their theoretical prediction becoming reality, but sad that they couldn’t find it. Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977, just because they accidentally discovered it. Nobel committee didn’t give a damn about the people who laid the theory for it!
As a matter of fact, it is often said that Dicke nearly missed many Nobels [ See the neat article written by Vasant Natarajan].
15. E. C. George Sudarshan (1931- 2018):
Photo Courtesy: E. C. George Sudarshan
We know him for his proposition of elementary particle which moves faster than light, which we call as tachyons. But his expertise is not limited to relativistic physics. His range of contribution ranges from Optical coherence, Sudarshan-Glauber representation, V-A theory, Tachyons, Quantum Zeno effect, Open quantum system, Spin-statistics theorem. For Sudarshan-Glauber representation, Roy J. Glauber has received the Noble in 2005, but Sudarshan was denied of it. It was a subject of big controversy (see: http://www.thehindu.com/2005/12/… and http://www.thecrimson.com/articl… )
There may be other physicists who were worth of receiving this prize, but these are images which comes to my mind when hearing about those people who missed the Nobel…
source: quoran

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