Owen Willans Richardson’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1929
Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I yield to no man in my admiration of the Swedish race. A race which has produced such names as those of Linnaeus, Scheele, Berzelius, Ångstrom and Rydberg, to mention a few only, is assured of the appreciation of every man of science. I willingly admit that Stockholm is one of the finest cities of the world. Indeed I am not prepared to quarrel with the assertion that it is the world’s finest city. I also hope that, as one of the fortunate beneficiaries under his magnificent bequest, I am prepared to pay a fitting tribute to the genius and magnanimity of Alfred Nobel.
I will not, however, pursue these matters further. The same theme has been admirably covered by my colleague Sir Frederick Hopkins. If I were to succeed in doing it better, I might be in danger of acquiring his perpetual enmity. If on the other hand I succeeded in doing it much worse, I might be equally in danger of losing, what I value much, your continued friendship.
No doubt you are aware, after the events of this afternoon, that I have the great honour of being the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1928. But you are probably not aware, and I think this is an interesting fact, of the unusually close personal relationship between myself and the recipients of the Physics Prize for 1927. For one of them, Arthur Compton, was a research student of mine when I was at Princeton University, in America, and the other, C.T.R. Wilson, an old friend who was the best man at my wedding, an event which took place at an earlier stage of my career, in England. Now we in England are very interested in sporting events and in any unusual combination of circumstances. I feel that this particular combination of circumstances constitutes a record of successive personal association which is not likely to be broken for a very very long time.
Now Professor Harden has complained that until the award of the Nobel Prizes for 1929 Biochemistry has been regarded as the Cinderella of the Sciences. Well, I confess that I have sometimes secretly wished that Physics might suffer from a little, not too much, of the same malady. The trouble with Physics at the present time is that there are so many workers making discoveries so fast, and important discoveries too, that it is difficult for any one worker to keep a balanced view of the state of the subject. The fundamental principles also are in a very liquid state. For example, we often do not know whether to regard an electron as a particle, as in the older view, or as a wave, in accordance with the view of M. De Broglie, and if a wave, then a wave in what? Sometimes it seems to be a particle, sometimes a wave, and sometimes both. Certainly both these conceptions are necessary. Well, anyhow, I feel that order will ultimately come out of this chaos and very likely quite soon. As in other periods of intense scientific activity, we may confidently expect the ultimate results to be of great benefit to mankind.
In conclusion I wish to thank the Nobel Committee for their generous and indeed noble hospitality and all of you for the kind sympathy with which you have listened to my words.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.