Robert Hofstadter

Banquet speech

Robert Hofstadter’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1961

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

I wish to thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science for the great honor conferred upon me. Since I am the last speaker you will appreciate my difficulty in saying something new that is at the same time significant. I hope that on this occasion you will allow me to repeat in a somewhat different way what has already been said in this hall.

Ever since I was notified on November 2 that I had been selected as a recipient of one of this year’s prizes, I have tried to think of the significance of the prize, particularly in the context of Alfred Nobel’s aim. There were two aspects to my thoughts: the narrow or more personal meaning, and the more general one that relates to the world at large. The Nobel Prize is given as a personal award but it also honors the field of research in which I have worked and it also honors my students and colleagues. It is an indication that the world thinks the subject of the investigation of small things is an important one. Not only has this subject been long associated with the ideas of thinking men over the ages but its practical importance is attested to by the huge resources of men and material thrown into this type of work. As illustrations we may consider the large endeavors at CERN, Brookhaven, Berkeley, Dubna, etc. In fact, Fermi once expressed the idea that if one examined the natural rate of evolution of accelerators, soon it would be clear that one would be built to encircle the earth. The building of such an accelerator would involve the efforts of a large fraction of all living humanity. I am not herewith proposing that such an accelerator should be built, but one step in this direction is the recent authorization of a two-mile-long linear accelerator at Stanford University. Surely the large effort that Fermi had in mind would serve to bind together the peoples of many lands and this is something I regard as a good thing. I hope that international cooperation can be obtained in such affairs as well as in the normal relations between nations.

Now the general significance of the Nobel Prize awards seems to me to be the setting of high and dignified standards for all the world to see. The world is refreshed and reminded year by year of high ideals and high standards of conduct. It is my earnest hope that statesmen of all nations will draw inspiration from these annual events.

Finally let me give my thanks and also those of my family for the gracious way we have been received by the people of Stockholm. We shall always remember with pleasure the old city of Stockholm and the wonderful country of Sweden.

Prior to the speech, G. Liljestrand, member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: Professor Hofstadter. The myth of the indivisibility of the atom, implied in its very name, was shattered in the beginning of this century, and a completely new and fascinating world of the utmost importance became revealed. You have been able to obtain further significant information of the intimate structure of this intriguing world by disclosing the distribution of electric charges and magnetic forces within the atomic nucleus, and the particles of which it is composed. We sincerely congratulate you on your success.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1961, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1962

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1961

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