Owen Chamberlain

Banquet speech

Owen Chamberlain’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1959

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am deeply moved by the great honor the Royal Swedish Academy of Science has bestowed upon me. I doubt that any man could feel himself worthy of this great distinction. Certainly I am filled with humility, for the list of the Nobel laureates includes many men of truly outstanding genius.

The development of physics, like the development of any science, is a continuous one. Each new idea is dependent upon the ideas of the past. The whole structure of science gradually grows, but only as it is built upon a firm foundation of past research. Each generation of scientists stands upon the shoulders of those who have gone before.

In a different way, each generation of scientists depends upon the previous generation for instruction and training. I was 21 years old when I came as a graduate student to the University of California in Berkeley. Within a short time I found myself working under Professor Emilio Segrè. Whenever there was a pause in the routine parts of our work, his agile mind produced intriguing questions and scientific puzzles to tease my intellect. A few years later, I worked under the late Professor Enrico Fermi, who was, I believe, the most intelligent man I have ever met. For a considerable period he devoted several hours per week to helping me with my research toward the doctor’s degree. When I faltered, he found a method of circumventing the difficulty. Professor Segrè has taught me the value of asking the right question, for by asking the right question one may find a key to new knowledge. From Professor Fermi I have learned that even the simplest methods may give answers to difficult questions.

Each generation of scientists also depends upon its own environment. Our researches are supported by the society in which we live. I have had the privilege of using the marvelously equipped Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in which so much of my work has been carried out.

The most that any scientist can ask is that he help to lay a few stones of a partially-built edifice that we call scientific knowledge. To him this edifice is a beautiful structure, although it will never be finished.

The late Alfred Nobel, through the medium of the Nobel prizes, has done much to dramatize this search for knowledge. In so doing, I am sure he has quickened the pace of scientific history.

In conclusion, I wish to express thanks, for myself and for my family, to the Nobel Foundation and to all of you here for a warm and very hospitable reception.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1959, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1960

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1959


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