Gerhard Ertl’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2007
Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2007
Photo: Hans Mehlin
The famous physicist Werner Heisenberg begins his autobiography with the sentence: “Science is made by men.” Since in my own case you honour not a singular discovery, but the lifelong attempt to understand how chemical reactions at solid surfaces take place, this work involved in fact many people. When I was young, I was sometimes dreaming of becoming a musician. That is why I considered my co-workers often as an orchestra with me being the conductor. We know that even the best conductor cannot perform first class music with a mediocre orchestra. But I had the great luck of always being surrounded by an excellent group of co-workers whom I may compare – not with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra – but perhaps with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. But in contrast to the situation with a real orchestra where the artists play notes prescribed by the composer, in our case the players themselves are the composers. By continuously crossing the border between the known and the unknown, they build on the never ending multidimensional symphony of science. The resulting feelings had once expressed by the greatest poet of my country, J. W. Goethe, when he was already over 80 years old: “Es geht nichts über die Freude, die uns des Studium der Natur gewährt” – “There is no greater joy than studying nature.”
Goethe died one year before Alfred Nobel was born, and hence he could not know that there might be an even greater joy, namely when ones own joy from studying nature is honoured in such a magnificent manner by the Nobel Prize.
Thank you very much!