David M. Lee

Banquet speech

David M. Lee’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1996

Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been a great pleasure to have participated in an exciting journey of discovery with my friends and colleagues, Douglas Osheroff and Robert Richardson. I speak on behalf of the three of us in expressing our deep gratitude to the Nobel Committee for selecting us to share the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The discovery of superfluid 3He took place over a seven month period. It is difficult to imagine a more stimulating time as more and more phenomena were revealed on an almost daily basis. I fervently wish that every young scientist could experience this at some time in his or her career.

There are surely more exciting discoveries ahead. It has lately become fashionable for the doomsayers to predict that we shall soon know everything we can know and need to know, and that the demise of science is imminent. I take issue with this view. In the words of the famous American author, Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”. The same can be said for science.

We live in an age when we all enjoy the benefits of science and technology. We mindlessly turn on our television sets and computers, forgetting all of the complex electronics inside, based on the transistor. We make use of the benefits bestowed to medical science by the discovery of DNA, X rays and magnetic resonance. All of these and other essential ingredients of modern living are based on Nobel Prize winning discoveries. Basic science provides long-term benefits for ourselves and our fragile planet and should be supported by all the world’s societies. When the famous British physicist Michael Faraday was asked by Prime Minister Gladstone what his researches on electricity and magnetism were good for, he replied, “Some day, Sir, you will tax it”.

In the past few weeks we have received letters from friends in the low temperature physics community which have expressed pride that a discovery in our field would be given this recognition. We are delighted that they share our joys and once again, on behalf of the three of us, I thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for this honor.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1996, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1997

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1996

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