Aleksey Yekimov


First reactions. Telephone interview, October 2023

“It’s the middle of the night here!”

“It’s the middle of the night here!” Aleksey Yekimov’s first reaction to hearing the news of his 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was reasonable enough: “I woke up,” he says! In this call with the Nobel Prize’s Adam Smith, made not long afterwards, Yekimov goes on to discuss the experiments he performed over forty years ago producing quantum effects in coloured glass. He explains how his experiments confirmed theories he had read about back in his student textbook: “I still remember that picture,” he recalls, “where there is a quantum well, and the levels of electrons, confined in that quantum well.”

Interview transcript

Alexei Yekimov: Hello?

Adam Smith: Hello, may I speak to Aleksey Yekimov please?

AE: That’s me.

AS: Hello, my name is Adam Smith, I’m calling from the website of the Nobel Prize, Congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.

AE: Ok, thank you very much.

AS: Would you mind speaking just very, very briefly?

AE: Ok, it’s the middle of night here.

AS: I know, and how did you receive the news of the award?

AE: Very positive!

AS: Very positive! That’s nice. [laughs] And when the call from the academy came, were you sleeping?

AE: Yes, I practically was sleeping, now yes.

AS: And what did you do as the first thing when you heard the news?

AE: I waked up, just! What could I do. It has taken some time, because it was something about 5 o’clock or even before in the morning, here.

AS: What does it mean to you to be awarded the prize for work that was done, gosh, 40 years ago in St Petersburg?

AE: No, ok, in some sense the satisfaction, you know, that this process is very, very long, and it was mentioned about 40 years ago I think it was 1980 or ‘81…

AS: ‘81.

AE: ‘81, my first publication, it’s about 40 years, so we are just happy.

AS: Do you remember the feeling of excitement when you realized that you were being able to change the properties of these particles in your doped glass by changing their size.

AE: No, in some sense it was a surprise even for us at the beginning. It actually will take almost one year when we confirm it for ourselves, that it is true, I mean experimentally and theoretically. I think it will be worth to emphasize that it was not, you know, surprising at that time, because it was a phenomena of quantum confinement that was discussed and described theoretically. And in Russia it was, at that time, it was the main handbook for the students, it was five volumes handbook for physics and quantum confinement. I still remember that picture where there is a quantum well and the levels of electrons confined in the quantum well. So, we treated for ourselves that experimental confirmation of theory, solid theory which was made maybe 20 years in advance of the experimental observation.

AS:  Right.

AE: It was not very surprising, because that’s what we hoped, just to make experimental confirmation.

AS: Right, exactly, it’s not just a surprise happening, its based on textbook quantum chemistry, on established chemical protocols bringing together previous knowledge in new ways, yes, there’s an important lesson in that. Wonderful! It’s been such a pleasure speaking to you, thank you very much indeed.

AE: Thank you very much for calling, actually you’ve been the first one, gave me this news, so thank you.

AS: Again, congratulations.

AE: Bye.

AS: Bye, bye.

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