Willard F. Libby

Banquet speech

Willard F. Libby’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1960

Today we see more clearly than ever how any single piece of research in science is due to the efforts of many people. You honor me greatly and beyond my ability as an individual but in so doing you honor my colleagues also who made possible the results you have cited. Most achievements in science are to a certain degree group efforts. True, the initial ideas are in general those of an individual, but the establishment of the reality and truth is in general the work of more than one person. And yet the Nobel Prizes, in singling out individuals, have done a great deal of good in pointing up to the world as a whole and setting forth clearly goals for achievement. It is a very great honor you have done my colleagues and me – one that is difficult to realize and to comprehend. We are extremely grateful.

The future of the world, dependent as it is upon atomic energy, requires more understanding and knowledge about the atom. I hope that in some small way our efforts have helped people to learn about the atom and the way in which it works and may have helped them to see that isotopes are real and that they may hold much promise for the future – that in them lies a principal hope for the betterment of human life on earth and for the preservation and improvement of our standard of living. In all fields from industry and medicine to pure scientific research, as Professor Hevesy whom you honored in 1943 has shown so well, there are numerous applications of isotopes as yet unmade which in themselves may well increase by large factors the large total of benefits mankind now receives from them. We hope that this honor you have done us will bring the time of further realization of these benefits closer and will help all mankind to live better and be happier through the atom and isotopes.

Prior to the speech, B. Lindblad, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: “Dr. Libby, your famous method of age determination has given us a fascinating illustration of how the living organisms on this earth depend on the mysterious rays from the macrocosmos. The extremely delicate measurements of the carbon-14 isotope which you have inaugurated in your ingenious method serve not only natural science but to a very great extent archaeology and the study of the history of mankind in its early ages.”

From Les Prix Nobel en 1960, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1961

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1960

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