Fred Hoyle: An Online Exhibition

A History of Hoyle in 10 Objects

3: Stellar Nucleosynthsis and the Nobel Prize

This letter was written to Fred Hoyle by his close friend and colleague Willy Fowler after the announcement that Fowler had been awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics. Fowler worked at the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, and was awarded the prize for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis. Stellar nucleosynthesis is the process by which the chemical elements are created inside stars. Much of this work, including the seminal paper in the field, was carried out in collaboration with Fred Hoyle. Many people felt that Fowler and Hoyle should have been joint winners.

We cannot be certain why Hoyle was not awarded the Nobel Prize, but there are two possible contributing factors. In 1975 he strongly criticised the Nobel Prize committee for awarding the Prize in Physics to Martin Ryle and Anthony Hewish for the discovery of pulsars, but not including their PhD student Jocelyn Bell in the award. In the early 1980s Hoyle was actively promoting his theory that life on earth had been seeded from space, a highly controversial theory that was received poorly by many other scientists. It is possible that the Nobel Prize committee did not want to award a Prize to a scientist causing such controversy.

Find out more: stellar nucleosynthesis, other prizes.

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A letter from Hoyle's friend and colleague Willy Fowler, written after Fowler was awarded the Nobel Prize. Hoyle papers 87/5/4.

Transcription of the letter

Hoyle's Youth | Hoyle in Cambridge | Steady-State Universe | Stellar Nucleosynthesis | Hoyle vs Ryle | Institute of Theoretical Astronomy | Hoyle on the Radio | Hoyle the Writer | Hoyle the Polymath | Honours and Medals

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