Robert B. Laughlin

Banquet speech

Robert B. Laughlin’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 1998.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been elected by my co-winners in Physics to propose to you a version of Mark Twain’s famous toast to babies, for babies are the first contact most of us have with real physics and thus an important component of the Nobel Prize experience. And of course, we have all been babies. All of us remember the first day those bundles of joy arrived and the cold realization that there would be no academic freedom in THIS house for the next thousand million eternities, for it is an experimental fact that time runs slower in the vicinity of babies, especially at night. Who of us cannot remember learning the true measure of eternity by spending the first night alone with an alert baby? And who would deny the iron certainty of Heisenberg’s famous Uncertainty Principle, which states that two new parents cannot possibly get a good night’s sleep simultaneously? And as for Black Holes, I know they exist for I have seen them and know them to be the most powerful things in this or any other universe. You don’t have to be Einstein to understand Black Holes. Yes, babies have natural openness with nature that makes them a vehicle for even the most abstruse concepts of our field. Take, for example, the destruction operator. It costs thousands of dollars and many years of study to fully educate an undergraduate about this concept. But just let a baby loose in a living room in which your stereo is down low within easy reach and you will shortly understand with most wonderful clarity what a destruction operator is.

My toast this evening is actually not to babies at all, but to the parents that put up with them, for they are making loving investments that may take a lifetime to bear fruit, and sometimes longer. My own father for example, died a few weeks after I had done the first piece of work leading to the Nobel Prize this year, and so never knew what he had accomplished. There are other examples, but we need not belabor the point. Life goes on – thanks to babies. So please join me in raising your glasses to parents, both present and not, who are the real heroes of events of this kind, for without them there would be no life at all.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1998, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1999

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1998

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