The Nobel Prize in Physics 1939
Ernest Lawrence's speech from the ceremony in Berkeley, February 29, 1940
Mr. President, Mr. Consul-General,
Professor Birge, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Words fail me in giving expression to my thoughts on this occasion. To convey to you, Mr. Consul-General, and through you to the Royal Swedish Academy of Science my profound gratitude for this great honor would be giving expression to only a part of what is in my mind; for I am mindful that scientific achievement is rooted in the past, is cultivated to full stature by many contemporaries and flourishes only in favorable environment. No individual is alone responsible for a single stepping stone along the path of progress, and where the path is smooth progress is most rapid. In my own work this has been particularly true. From the beginning of the Radiation Laboratory, I have had the rare good fortune of being in the center of a group of men of high ability, enthusiastic and completely devoted to scientific pursuits. I wish it were possible this evening for me to pay tribute individually to them all, for it was our joint endeavors which have made possible the work which has been so magnificently recognized by the Nobel Award; but I must content myself with accepting this great honor with the happy thought that I am the representative of these valued associates and friends.
I know also that I speak for my colleagues in the Radiation Laboratory as well as for myself when I take this felicitous opportunity to acknowledge with sincere gratitude the generous help we have received from many sources. The day when the scientist, no matter how devoted, may make significant progress alone and without material help is past. This fact is most self-evident in our work. Instead of an attic with a few test tubes, bits of wire and odds and ends, the attack on the atomic nucleus has required the development and construction of great instruments on an engineering scale. This has been possible only through generous assistance from several quarters - notably the Research Corporation, the Chemical Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and from the late William H. Crocker, Regent of the University. These benefactors share the honor of this occasion because without their help the work of our laboratory could not have been brought to its present fruition.
I have suggested that scientific progress requires a favorable environment. The University of California rightfully takes pride in the Nobel Award because the University as a whole has contributed immeasurably in diverse ways to the work of the Radiation Laboratory. I shall always be grateful for the wise and generous guidance and help that our work has received from the University Board of Research, and especially from Professor Leuschner, Chairman of the Research Board, in the early years of organization of the laboratory, and above all may I acknowledge my deep appreciation of the support of the President of the University, who whole-heartedly has been all along such a stimulus to our activities. It may truly be said that this Nobel Award is yet another tribute to his great academic leadership.
It is a source of gratification to us all that we have been able to contribute a little to an understanding of the nucleus of the atom. We are glad that already in these early beginnings discoveries have emerged of immediate practical significance - for, as Professor Birge has so graciously said this evening, the new radiations and radioactive substances have opened vistas for all the sciences, especially in medical research and therapy. In the Radiation Laboratory we count it a privilege to do everything we can to assist our medical colleagues in the application of these new tools to the problems of human suffering.
At the same time we have been looking towards the new frontier in the atom, the domain of energies above a hundred million volts, for we have every reason to believe that there lies ahead for exploration a territory with treasures transcending anything thus far unearthed. To penetrate this new frontier will require the building of a giant cyclotron, perhaps weighing more than 4,000 tons - twenty times larger than the new medical cyclotron of the Crocker Laboratory. We have been working on the designs of such a great instrument and are convinced that there are no insurmountable technical difficulties in the way of producing atomic projectiles of energies well above one hundred million volts, but of course such a great instrument would involve large expenditures. Perhaps I might say that the difficulties in the way of crossing the next frontier in the atom are no longer in our laboratory. They constitute a very considerable financial problem, which we must hand over to President Sproul.
Professor Birge has alluded to the very great importance of this project. As he has indicated, there are substantial prospects that it will be the instrumentality for finding the key to the almost limitless reservoir of energy in the heart of the atom. Certainly, it may bring to light such a deeper knowledge of the structure of matter as to constitute a veritable discontinuity in the progress of science.
Therefore, Mr. Consul-General, I believe that in this instance the award of the Nobel Prize is accomplishing to an unusual degree the purpose intended by Alfred Nobel - the encouragement of fundamental scientific research. For it goes without saying that this great recognition at this time will aid tremendously our efforts to find the necessarily large funds for the next voyage of exploration farther into the depths of the atom. Let us cherish the hope that the day is not far distant when we will be in the midst of this next adventure.
In closing, may I again give expression to a profound feeling of gratitude and appreciation for this great honor, which I share with the University and with all those outside who have contributed to make our work possible and above all with my valued colleagues and co-workers, both past and present.
From Les Prix Nobel en 1939, Editor Arne Holmberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1940
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1939