"The problem of making awards to individuals has been exacerbated, but by no means created, by the scaling up of research projects," Broman said in an email.
Nowhere is scientific teamwork more evident than in physics. Many physics experiments today use instruments that cost millions or billions to build, such as the Hubble Space Telescope or the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. These complex instruments require many scientists to run them, to analyze data from them, and to share them, as no small group could afford to build a space telescope just for itself. So when something exciting comes out of those instruments, there are many people who contributed to the discovery.
CERN announced "strong indications for the presence of a new particle, which could be the Higgs boson" on Wednesday (July 4). The existence of the Higgs boson would lend crucial support for the Standard Model, a major physics theory about how matter in the universe works.
"A situation like this certainly puts those seeking to recognize individuals in quite a quandary," said Adam Riess, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who won the Nobel Prize in physics last year.
Riess' own win sparked some conversations about prizes in modern physics. He used the Hubble Space Telescope to measure supernovae, concluding the universe is accelerating in its expansion, and shared his Nobel with two other scientists from two different teams. One of the teams was made up of about 20 people and the other, about 35. "So there were many more people who were involved," he said.