John B. Fenn’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2002
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honored Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
During my long, and still ardent, affair with molecular beam technology, I have been able to make tape recordings of one-on-one conversations with some of its greatest practictioners. One of the most memorable of those conversations was with Isidor Isaac Rabi, a true citizen-statesman of Science who received the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of resonance methods for measuring the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei. During that conversation I was deeply moved by the eloquence with which Rabi expressed his abiding faith in the power of the human spirit in its search for ultimate truths. To me the essence of that human spirit, which is also the spirit of Science, is most exquisitely captured in my favorite lines from “Leaves of Grass”, the opus magnus of Walt Whitman, thought by many to be the greatest of America’s Poets. Let me express my gratitude, for the honor I have now received, by sharing those lines with you:
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Watch the Banquet speech
Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.