C.T.R. Wilson

Banquet speech

C. T. R. Wilson’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1927

Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish I could adequately express my gratitude to the Royal Swedish Academy of Science for the great honour they have conferred upon me.

I feel that I owe what success I have achieved in my scientific work mainly to my good fortune in beginning my experiments on clouds just at the right time – a few months before Röntgen made his great discovery.

And my choice of a subject to work upon was not due to any forethought on my own part nor to any good advice received, but just to the fact that in the autumn of 1894 I spent a few weeks on a cloudy Scottish hill-top – the top of Ben Nevis. Morning after morning I saw the sun rise above a sea of clouds and the shadow of the hill on the clouds below surrounded by gorgeous coloured rings. The beauty of what I saw made me fall in love with clouds and I made up my mind to make experiments to learn more about them.

Working in J. J. Thomson‘s laboratory during the years when X-rays and radio-activity were discovered, I could not help being interested in ions – and with ions and clouds I have worked ever since.

To those few weeks spent on the highest point of my native land I owe many happy years of work in the laboratory and not a few exciting moments – and perhaps my presence here tonight!

And perhaps I ought to tell how an experience on another Scottish hill was responsible for diverting my attention to another type of cloud than those condensed on ions in the laboratory – the thunder-cloud. While I stood on the top of a hill listening to the mutterings of distant thunder my hair suddenly rose up on end – and so my attention was very forcibly directed to the electric field of a thunder-cloud!

I am very glad to be associated with my friend Professor Compton in the award of the Nobel Prize for Physics. Compton was one of the workers in the Cavendish Laboratory a few years ago and in virtue of that we in Cambridge look upon him as one of ourselves.

Finally I should like to express my heartiest thanks to the Archbishop for all the kind things he has said, and to you all for your very kind welcome.

Prior to the speech, M. Söderblom, member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: My dear Mr. Wilson. I need not confess to you my complete ignorance in that domain in which you are a conqueror and a ruler. And if I confess at the same time my sincere admiration, you must not reply: major e longinquo reverentia. You have been able to peep at the domestic affairs of the atomic worlds, and they have been bound to reveal to you some of their supposed secrets as in a flush of lightning, or a cometary trajectory. Even we, the laymen who are not initiated into those mysteries, appreciate fully that you have let your atoms and electrons alone in their celestial dancing and mysterious eruptions for a while, and come on our invitation to accept a well merited recognition of your genius.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1927, Editor Carl Gustaf Santesson, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1928

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1927

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