Felix Bloch’s Address to the University Students on the Evening of December 10, 1952
It is my great privilege to address the academic youth on behalf of the Nobel Prize winners of the year 1952. First of all, let me thank you for your felicitations, for your cheers, and for your beautiful songs.
In talking to you I feel very much more at ease than my colleagues who gave the speeches during the banquet. It is indeed my profession to speak to students and I do this every week for several hours in the lecture rooms of Stanford University. But my lectures are not customarily given in rooms with the magnificence of this hall nor are they delivered in the presence of such an august audience as the one assembled here. In view of these unusual circumstances, my address will also have a somewhat unusual character. Instead of explaining the sober facts of mechanics and electricity, I want to say a few words about the debt which we owe to youth; and with your permission I shall consider you as representing here not only the academic youth of Sweden nor even of Europe but also of America and, in fact, of the whole world.
Our indebtedness to youth has for me two different aspects. One originates from the daily contact with my students: Their interest and enthusiasm have been a constant stimulus and a great source of inspiration and the spirit of my young collaborators has been an important factor in the success of our work.
The other aspect is of more personal nature. I am sure my fellow-scientists will agree with me if I say that whatever we were able to achieve in our later years had its origin in the experiences of our youth and in the hopes and wishes which were formed before and during our time as students. It seems that this situation is not restricted to science but is more generally human. We have just listened to the moving words of Mr. Mauriac and we have heard that it was really his life as a pupil in the province of France which, to his own surprise, has grown in his books to world-wide dimensions.
It is inevitable that many ideas of the young mind will later have to give way to the hard realities of life. But these realities will make themselves felt soon enough and while I am certainly not asking you to close your eyes to the experiences of earlier generations, I want to advise you not to conform too soon and to resist the pressure of practical necessity. Free imagination is the inestimable prerogative of youth and it must be cherished and guarded as a treasure.
Thanking you once more, I want to wish you the best of luck for your future life and to conclude by saying to you: Dream your dreams and may they come true!
Prior to the speech, Harald Cramér, member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: “Dr Bloch and Dr Purcell! You have opened the road to new insight into the micro-world of nuclear physics. Each atom is like a subtle and refined instrument, playing its own faint, magnetic melody, inaudible to human ears. By your methods, this music has been made perceptible, and the characteristic melody of an atom can be used as an identification signal. This is not only an achievement of high intellectual beauty – it also places an analytic method of the highest value in the hands of scientists.”