Niels Bohr’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1922
Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen.
In attempting to give expression to my deep and heartfelt gratitude for the great honour that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has bestowed upon me by awarding me the Nobel Prize for Physics for this year, I am naturally forcibly reminded of Alfred Nobel’s insistence upon the international character of science, which indeed forms the very basis of his most munificent bequest. That point of view – the international character of science – suggests itself all the more readily to myself, as the contributions that I may have had the good fortune to make to the development of physical science consist in a combination of the results arrived at by a number of fellow-investigators, belonging to a variety of nations, on the basis of study carried on under widely differing scientific traditions.
The grand discoveries which scientific experiment yielded at and about the turn of the century, in which investigators in many countries took an eminent part and which were destined all unexpectedly to give us a fresh insight into the structure of atoms, were due in the first instance, as all are aware, to the work of the great investigators of the English school, Sir Joseph Thomson and Sir Ernest Rutherford, who have inscribed their names on the tablets of the history of scientific research as distinguished witnesses to the truth that imagination and acumen are capable of penetrating the crowded mass of registered experience and of revealing Nature’s simplicity to our gaze. On the other hand, abstract thinking, which throughout the ages has been one of the most powerful of man’s aids in lifting the veil that shrouds the laws of Nature from the eyes of the uninitiated observer, has proved of the utmost importance for enabling the insight into the structure of atoms so obtained to be applied practically in elucidating the properties of those elements that are immediately accessible to our perceptions. To this branch of the work too, men of many nations have made important contributions; but it was the great German investigators, Planck and Einstein, who, as a result of their systematic abstract investigations, were to show us for the first time that the laws of the movements of atomic particles, which determine the properties of the elements, are of an essentially different character from those laws by the aid of which science has hitherto sought to bring order into the mass of our observations of natural phenomena. If it has been my good fortune to be in some sense a connecting link at one point in the development, that is but one among many evidences of the fruitfulness of the closest relations prevailing in the scientific world between those carrying on investigations under varying human conditions. A Danish scientist, however, on finding himself in Stockholm on such an occasion as this, cannot confine his thoughts to the international character of science but must also dwell in an equal degree on the intellectual solidarity that exists in these Scandinavian countries, of which we are all – and, especially in the domain of science – fully and perfectly aware. It might be tempting to endeavour to indicate the great debt owed by science, and consequently by Danish investigators, to Swedish scientists of earlier and recent times. That, however, would carry me too far, even if I were to confine myself only to the most important of the contributions that we owe to the distinguished representatives of Swedish investigations in natural science who are present here this evening, and whose work in a variety of ways has been of fundamental importance, for instance, for atomic research. Hence I must rest content only to recall the name of one single Swedish physicist, the late Professor Rydberg of Lund, whose brilliant work on the spectral laws has been of such great importance for extending our knowledge of atoms and especially for the particular contribution that it was to fall to my lot to make.
In once more gladly availing myself of this opportunity to express my deep gratitude for the honour that the Academy of Sciences has bestowed upon myself and upon Danish scientific investigation by awarding me the Nobel Prize, I also beg leave at this banquet to propose the toast of International Cooperation for the Advancement of Science, which is, I may say, in these so manifoldly depressing times, one of the bright spots visible in human existence, and also to give you, in particular, Prosperity to the sense of unity and solidarity in scientific work among the peoples of Scandinavia who, notwithstanding the characteristic peculiarities of each, do feel themselves intimately bound together by the ties of racial affinity.