Telephone interview with Dr. David J. Gross after the announcement of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, October 5, 2004. Interviewer was Joanna Rose, science writer.
– Is this David Gross?
– Hello. This is Joanna Rose from Stockholm. My congratulations to the prize.
– Thank you.
– I’m calling from Nobelprize.org, which is the official website of The Nobel Foundation. So, we thought that we can put this interview on the web, if it’s O.K. for you?
– You want to do an interview right now?
– Yes. We are doing it now.
– How are you feeling?
– I’m still in shock. And I haven’t been able to get off the phone with people calling for interviews.
– So, did you expect this prize this year?
– I don’t know, I thought it was a one in three chance.
– So, how did you sleep this night?
– Not very well. And certainly not for the last hour or two.
– But the discovery that you got the prize for, it was made more than thirty years age.
– That’s right.
– So, did you wait for the prize every year?
– No. Just the last twenty-nine years.
– I understand.
– I’m just kidding.
– I talked to Frank Wilczek. He said that he was sure that the discoveries were worth a Nobel Prize. But, not you.
– You mean he was sure at the beginning? Day one? He was sure that it was worth a Nobel Prize?
– Is that what he said?
– Yes. That’s what he said.
– Well, he was much younger and innocent. Well, you know, I think it took me three years before the experimental evidence was strong enough that I said, ”this is definitely true.”
– You wanted to be convinced?
– So, this is what you think, that the theory must be experimentally …
– Oh sure. Theorists can be wrong, only Nature is always right.
– Are you fostering now new Nobel Prize winners?
– I certainly hope so. Well again, I’m the director of an institute of theoretical physics where I see lots of potential Nobel Prize winners. But, as theorists, one has to wait for Nature’s verdict as well. Some of the ideas are wonderful. And, maybe they’re even true.
– I understand. Like, what ideas?
– Well, I’m most excited about ideas in string theory. But they’re not yet at the stage where it’s clear that it’s true.
– They say that string theory is very very far from being experimentally …
– Right. But there are even other ideas that have been around. Theorists have wonderful ideas which take years and years to be verified. Super symmetry is one that we’re waiting and waiting for verification.
– Could you see in the beginning of the 70’s that those two young students, Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, had this potential? That they were extraordinary in some sense?
– Well, Frank was essentially my first student.
– Yeah. I was pretty young too. I was about 31 when he started working with me. So, he was my first graduate student and I thought that, well, all graduate students are as good as Frank.
– Did you have to revise this?
– Well, I’ve had some other good students since … Ed Witten. But yes I think I learned that not all students are as good as Frank.
– So, do you have any good advice to young students today? How they can behave and study to get the Nobel Prize once?
– Well, the advice I tell students is to think about the big problems. I mean, work on anything you can work on where you can make progress. But always keep in mind the big problems. The ones that are truly important. And, watch carefully what Nature is trying to tell us.
– How early can you do it? Did you think about becoming a scientist when you were a child?
– Yeah. Actually, I was more or less determined to be a theoretical physicist at the age of thirteen.
– O.K. So please, once more my congratulations to the prize, and I hope to meet you here in Stockholm in December.
– I look forward to it. Thank you.