Care and Feeding of Nobel Laureates.

Personal observation

In late 1971-early 1972 I was at Cornell and watched the discovery of superfluid helium. Next year I had a sabbatical year in Copenhagen. Fortunately I had friends in Sweden who got me an invitation to attend the presentation and banquet connected with the Nobel prize for Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer in December 1972.
During that the trip two thoughts bounced thru my head. First, I knew how difficult it had been for BCS to get the prize for work done in 1958. Two internal reviews of the work (by Swedish professors) had said the work was wrong and should not get the prize. Very hard work by Stig Lundqvist succeeded in getting a report written to refute the earlier reports and make the case for the prize. Finally after 14 years truth won out. Next year the prize for superconducting tunneling was awarded. The pressure for it had probably helped BCS's chances.
Second, as I watched my thesis superviser Schrieffer get the prize I thought `surely superfluid helium will not have to wait as long. There are no aged Swedish professors to say the work is wrong. Further this is an experiment not a theory describing an event first witnessed in 1911.' Was I wrong! I guess the lack of practicality of superfluid helium slowed it down. Probably the advent of high temperature superconductors which demonstrated yet another exotic pairing state, the first of which was heen in superfluid helium helped truth conquer once again after a 24-year wait!

Looking after the the Laureates

I was fortunate to be on the same plane with Richardson and family from Gothenburg to Stockholm. I came out to the blaze of photographers and reporters -- all very polite. This process went very smoothly and we were in the limo within 35 minutes.

From the outset they were shepherded by a representative from the Swedish `State' department and a chauffeur.

The rep served as a personal secretary during the whole stay, explaining the schedule and generally trouble shooting the whole process. He was terrible smooth in the best Swedish style -- offering advice but not pushing. At the same time if you were about to `step in it' he helped you avoid the mistake.

This may not sound like much but the schedule for the Laureates is endless -- typically four events a day with a great range, from dinner with the King to an aimless CNN program.

The chauffeur turned out to be something special. His finest moment came when Richardson discovered one morning that the pants to a dressy suit he needed for a fancy dinner that night had been stolen from his luggage stored for several days in Hearthrow airport. He told the chauffeur who pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number from memory, and quickly described Richardson size and needs. At lunch he took Bob to a tailor waiting with a nearly ready suit that was finished within an hour and Bob was back on schedule! Ask yourself if you could do that where you live.

Other descriptions.

Cornell has web pages on the Nobel Prize.

See also David Mermins's Diary.


Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
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Edited by: wilkins@mps.ohio-state.edu [March 1997]