Paul J. Flory

Banquet speech

Paul J. Flory’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1974

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Acknowledgment of the privilege of receiving the Nobel Prize in words commensurate with the distinction it conveys overtaxes the resources of language. It must suffice to say that I am profoundly grateful to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for their gracious decision in my favor. I take genuine pleasure in being afforded the opportunity to express my highest thanks to them and to the Nobel Foundation for this, the ultimate prize in science.

Perhaps I may be permitted to reflect briefly on Alfred Nobel the man vis-à-vis the prizes that bear his name. Lest it seems presumptuous of me to comment on that great but little appreciated man, may I remind you that I too am a chemist. In fact, my researches have touched upon one of the principal ingredients of his epochal discoveries and inventions. I refer to nitrocellulose. To be sure, our interests in this substance differed: his of a scope leading to developments warranting world-wide fame, mine obscure by comparison. Be this as it may, nitrocellulose is a duly respected member of the family of macromolecules, and I take pride in laying claim to scientific kinship to Alfred Nobel through an interest in this substance, however tenuous the connection may be.

The Nobel Prizes have gained universal recognition as pre-eminent symbols of the importance and significance of intellectual achievement. They are much better known than the man who founded them. Yet, that wise but modest man, whose extraordinary vision and perception were obscured by a self-effacing manner, would not be offended, I believe, by the contrast between his own fame in the world of 1974 and that of his prizes. He founded them from the purest of motives, not as a means of memorializing himself. His will does not suggest, much less require, that the prizes bear his name; this was a decision of his executors, a well reasoned one to be sure. Alfred Nobel appears to have been motivated by the conviction that science and learning should be encouraged and more widely appreciated.

And so, on this splendid occasion, I am persuaded to pay tribute to Alfred Nobel, inventive genius, humanitarian and scholar, who had both the foresight and the magnanimity to commit his fortune for the encouragement of future generations to devote themselves to the cause of Peace, to the cultivation of science and to the enrichment of literature, endeavors which the burdens of his other responsibilities allowed him far too little time to pursue and enjoy. To this I should like to add a word in tribute to the executors of his estate and to the Nobel Foundation for implementing Alfred Nobel’s intentions and desires with such remarkable success.

Again, my best thanks!

From Les Prix Nobel en 1974, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1975

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1974

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