Interview with Roy J. Glauber

“… it’s like being swept up into the vortex of a bit of a tornado”

Transcript of the telephone interview with Professor Roy J. Glauber after the announcement of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, on 4 October 2005. Interviewer is Joanna Rose, science writer.

– May I speak to Joanna Rose, please?

– Yes. Here I am. Is this Dr Roy Glauber?

– Yes, it is.

– My congratulations on the Nobel Prize.

– Well, thank you. [laughter] I haven’t … Things are going to get even more confused before they get better. I’m really going through something now.

– I just wanted to ask you a few questions.

– Surely.

– This is your first day as a Nobel Prize-winner. How is it?

– Well, it’s like being swept up into the vortex of a bit of a tornado. It’s not quite that chaotic, but it’s every bit as vigorous.

– How did you come to learn that you had won the Prize?

– A telephone call came at 5.36, in the pitch blackness, this morning here.

– And how did you react to this phone call?

– Well, I could scarcely believe it. I certainly had not any anticipation, even though I knew this was that time of year.

– And did you expect a call … somehow?

– No, I certainly did not expect a call of any sort, certainly not at that hour of the morning!

– People call you the Father of Quantum Optics.

– I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.

– People used to call you “Father of Quantum Optics”.

– Oh, yes. Well, they seem to use that term, which … I hope it’s not just a reference to my considerable age. The subject, in a sense, did not exist before the early 1960s; and yet, in another sense, it had already existed for sixty-odd years. It was very well understood that light has a granular structure, even though nearly everything one observed was explained by continuous waves. But there were various things about this granular structure which were not taken fully seriously, because it didn’t appear that they were necessary. In the context of the older optics which dealt only with the intensity of light, the average intensity, and not with the statistical properties of light, you could get away with using the older form of the theory; and so people were rather lazy about it. I had the impression in the early ’60s that a couple of developments that had taken place were beginning to call for a much more vigorous version of the quantum theory, the full quantum theory that goes by the name, the frightening name: Quantum Electro-Dynamics.

– Hopefully that we can develop that in an interview in December. But you mentioned your age and I have another question: at your age, actually most do retire, but you still teach physics.

– Well, I have very little taste for retirement, I have to tell you. I have just taught a class and worn out my voice, doing it, as you can perhaps hear.

– So what would you like to tell young people about how to become excellent in science?

– Well, that isn’t what I was telling them. But I would try … I’d be happy to tell more of them that. Nobody asked me to tell that to anyone, but I’d be happy to try sometime.

– I see. Do you think that the Prize is just a reward, or does it mean new responsibilities for you, from now on?

– Well, certainly a reward. Whether it will lead to new responsibilities, I really don’t know, because I am at an age at which I was beginning to have my responsibilities lightened, quite considerably. And I wasn’t, I would say, always happy about that.

– So you have just taught, had a class with students. How will you continue this day?

– Well I will continue to teach. This was a small class, a seminar – only nine students who do a certain amount of reading, and reading that I comment on; I must say I … One isn’t really supposed to lecture in a seminar, but I sure did that … [laughter] in the last hour. And, in the spring, I teach a rather large elementary course which is full of very vigorous demonstrations.

– Yes. With laser physics?

– That’s right.

– Yes, I understand. What’s going to happen today, later today?

– Well, we’re going to hold a reception of some sort at 4 p.m. And we’ll have some sort of a party, I think, next week, because I heard there was a big meeting in California for Charles Townes, which begins on Thursday, and I’ll have to fly out there tomorrow.

– I think your colleague, Nobel Prize-winner, Dr Hänsch …

– Is Ted Hänsch going?

– Yes. He is already there, I think.

– Oh, he’s already there. Good for him! Okay. I was wondering whether I would get to see him. He’s a good friend.

– I understand. Did you have time to think a little … Did you have time to think about what you would do with the Prize money?

– No. To tell you the truth, I heard not a word about it. I’ve still heard nothing official about it at all, and I’ve not thought for a moment.

– I see. I’m looking forward to meeting you in December. Thank you so much for taking the time …

– Well, I have your name and I shall certainly look for you, in December.

– Thank you very much.

– You’re quite welcome. Bye!

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