Henry Taube

Banquet speech

Henry Taube’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1983

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have the honor to represent the science professed by Alfred Nobel, an honor enhanced by the presence here of so many of the Nobel family.

My friend professor Lindqvist earlier today referred to chemistry as a rapidly aging science, a remark in apparent conflict with what I had intended as my opening statement, namely that chemistry as a science is still in its infancy. I hold to my view because there is still so much beyond our understanding even in the simplest systems the chemist has cared to deal with. It should be noted that there is no real conflict in the two statements: because a child of one doubles its age after the passage of a single year, it can be said to be aging rapidly.

Undeveloped though the science is, it already has great power to bring benefits. Those accruing to physical welfare are readily recognized, as in providing cures, improving the materials needed for everyday living, moving to ameliorate the harm which mankind by its sheer numbers does to the environment, to say nothing of that which even today attends industrial development. And as we continue to improve our understanding of the basic science on which applications increasingly depend, material benefits of this and other kinds are secured for the future.

But the benefits of science are not to be reckoned only in terms of the physical. Science as an intellectual exercise enriches our culture, and is in itself ennobling. Who can fail to be uplifted by the kind of vision that the laureates in physics have provided into the outer reaches of space? Though to the layman, the world revealed by the chemist may seem more commonplace, it is not so to him. Each new insight into how the atoms in their interactions express themselves in structure and transformations, not only of inanimate matter, but particularly also of living matter, provides a thrill.

This joy of discovery is real, and it is one of our rewards. So too is the approval of our work by our peers. At a modest level we experience it in the glow we feel when a paper we write wins the unanimous approval of the referees. But approval at the exalted level signified by this occasion can be unsettling.

It is reassuring then to remember who the laureates of the past are. They are all of the utmost distinction; the selection process has worked. Reassuring to me too were the messages of congratulations from co-workers and from other experts in the field of my research. I want to thank them all, co-workers and fellow workers, for the contributions they have made, which have made my own possible, and for sentiments so generously expressed on the occasion of this award.

Reassuring, and gratifying as well, is the thought that the award recognizes a subject – the study of the reactivity of metal ion complexes – the birth of which I have witnessed and which I have helped to nurture. It too is still in its infancy; it too is flourishing. As basic science it is bound to bring benefits. That direct benefits from it may be realized during my lifetime is a hope I cherish.

No member of my family nor I can possibly forget this beautiful occasion. Nor can we forget the warmth of our reception in this community. For the opportunity to participate here, and for your hospitality, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1983, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1984

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1983

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