Ernst Ruska’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1986
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the oldest of the Physics Laureates of this year, the pleasant task fell on me to express our deep-felt gratitude towards the Nobel Committee for the high honour bestowed upon our scientific work. Our work, although differing in details, is linked by the aim of increasing and improving ideas of the structure of matter. Our scientific careers and the ways of reaching our now rewarded results have, of course, been very different. Partly this is due to the different working circumstances then as compared to today.
In my lecture two days ago I have already evoked some of my personal experiences. Here, I only want to emphasize my impression that the scanning tunnel electron microscopy of Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer has obviously been accepted much faster by scientific colleagues than electron microscopy fifty years ago. Another considerable difference is that I had not intended to revolutionize electron microscopy. I was engaged as an engineer in the technical development of the cathode ray oscillograph. Dealing with a secondary problem of this work – the concentration coil for the electron beam – I encountered the possibility of imaging with electron rays.
My colleagues Binnig and Rohrer set their task themselves from the beginning. What is truly amazing about their idea and its successful realization is that they advanced, with purely mechanical means, down to atomic dimensions. I can well imagine that many of their colleagues were sceptical of such an idea in the beginning, and I can only congratulate them for convincing the doubters so quickly with their success.
In electron microscopy, the difficulties took considerably more time to surmount, and therefore the doubters held the field for a longer period. I can, however, also confirm from my own experience the observation of my colleagues that the doubt of the others has the advantage of leaving the field uncrowded. Mostly, this is understood only much later, in the beginning one is very disappointed.
A Nobel prize automatically implies the recognition of the workers in the Laureate’s field. I think that I do not only speak for myself but also for our colleagues when I thank the Committee for awarding our effort to elucidate the fine structure of matter. Most Laureates have been accompanied on their way to success by interested and diligent assistants who are not in the limelight today. Our sincere gratitude should therefore include these collaborators.
We are very happy to experience these festive days in Stockholm and to enjoy the well-known Swedish hospitality. In conclusion, I would like to express my sincere wish that peace be with the Swedish people and their Royal Family as for all mankind.
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.