Irving Langmuir

Banquet speech

Irving Langmuir’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1932

To my mind this impressive ceremony which so well typifies the spirit of the Swedish people, is significant as a realization of the magnificent idealism of Alfred Nobel. He desired above all things to benefit mankind. He recognized the importance of science and of medicine as factors tending to increase human happiness. He regarded idealistic literature as a source of international good will and understanding. And he hoped that this good will would help lead to international peace; but wished also to stimulate direct constructive efforts toward peace between nations.

This coupling together of science with international peace, is, I think, particularly significant. Science, almost from its beginnings, has been truly international in character. National prejudices disappear completely in the scientist’s search for truth. Medicine also disregards national boundaries. And literature frequently rises to heights that make it international.

The scientist is motivated primarily by curiosity and a desire for truth. His attitude is objective rather than subjective. In his work he finds great satisfaction in discovering new facts or new relationships between known facts, but even greater pleasure is derived from seeing his results incorporated into the body of scientific knowledge and from seeing them willingly used by others in the further development of science.

History proves abundantly that pure science, undertaken without regard to applications to human needs, is usually ultimately of direct benefit to mankind. Within recent years it has become possible for purely scientific work of this character to be carried out with the support of industries, which are, of course, primarily interested in the commercial applications. The scientist who works in this way is frequently especially fortunate in that he not only derives the satisfactions which are characteristic of scientific work in general, but is able to see that many of his results are almost immediately put into a form which directly benefits mankind.

Happy indeed is the scientist who not only has the pleasures which I have enumerated, but who also wins the recognition of fellow scientists and of the mankind which ultimately benefits from his endeavors.

To my mind, the most important aspect of the Nobel Awards is that they bring home to the masses of the peoples of all nations, a realization of their common interests. They carry to those who have no direct contact with science the international spirit.

It is with this feeling of deep concern for the spread of international good will that I accept with gratitude this Award of the Nobel Prize.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1932, Editor Carl Gustaf Santesson, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1933

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1932

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