Interview with George E. Smith

“I definitely will not go back to sleep!”

Transcript of the telephone interview with George E. Smith immediately following the announcement of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics, 6 October 2009. The interview was recorded minutes after the announcement and the interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of

[George Smith] Hello

[Adam Smith] Good morning. May I speak to George Smith please?

[GS] Speaking.

[AS] Oh hello. My name is Adam Smith. I’m calling from the official web site of the Nobel Foundation, in Stockholm, Sweden.

[GS] Oh my goodness.

[AS] Have you heard the news that you have… It has just been announced in Stockholm that you have been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

[GS] No! My goodness.

[AS] Well, I’m very pleased to be the person to tell you the news.

[GS] Ah, thank you. I’m amazed. Let’s see, myself and Bill Boyle, I guess?

[AS] Exactly. Yourself and Bill Boyle, and then also Charles Kao for his work on optical fibers.

[GS] Oh, very good.

[AS] Well, my congratulations. Of course the work you did was done in the late 60s, in 1969 in particular. I imagine it’s something of a surprise hearing the news at this point.

[GS] Yes, that’s correct. And let’s see, what’s your name again, sir?

[AS] My name is Adam Smith, and I’m the Editor-in-Chief of the Nobel Foundation official website, based here in Stockholm. We have a tradition of recording very brief interviews with the new Laureates as soon as they are announced and, hence, my call. And, indeed, there is currently a press conference going on at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, here in Stockholm, where the announcement has just been made and Bill Boyle, I think, is actually on the telephone and will take part in the press conference there.

[GS] Ho ho. OK. Is there anything I should do?

[AS] No, I’m sure that the Royal Swedish Academy will be phoning you very, very shortly. I gather that they have been trying to reach you already so perhaps …

[GS] Yes, I got up, but by the time I got to the telephone, they had hung up. That’s why I’m awake now.

 [AS] Ok, well, lucky for me. May I just ask you a very few questions and then I’ll get off the phone and allow them to call you?

[GS] Sure.

[AS] Thank you. The first thing is that you, I gather, have a record for having submitted the shortest thesis on record at the University of Chicago – just three pages.

[GS] Something like that, yes.

[AS] So, you were obviously a star student. And you moved straight from being a graduate student to Bell Labs?

[GS] Yes, that’s correct.

[AS] What was it about the atmosphere are Bell Labs that was so special? Many have talked about it, but could you tell us?

[GS] Oh my goodness. It was just very exciting. And, I started off in the research area, where there was essentially not much direction in that you were allowed to do yourself and stand or fall on your own. And that was nice. Most of all, there were just a lot of exciting, intelligent people around that you could interact with.

[AS] And, it gave you, presumably, the freedom to think and invent unlike anywhere else?

[GS] Oh, yes, that’s a true statement.

[AS] And, the idea for formulating the CCD, where did that come from?

[GS] Our heads, actually. Will Boyle and I got together one afternoon. It was actually a one afternoon shot and, well, we had a habit of batting things back and forth. We have a couple of other patents together too, around about, I don’t know, thirty or forty something overall. And, you know, things just happened to get together. I could give you a longer explanation. I actually give a talk on the invention and what I think was the elements that lead into it. But that would take a little time now.

[AS] Well, hopefully you’ll come to Stockholm in December to receive the award and at that point we get a longer time to interview you, so we can speak at length then. Just one last thing. I know that you’ve been sailing around the world for many years. Are we lucky to catch you at home now or are you now done with sailing?

[GS] No, I’m at home. I’m done with it. The boat is still sitting at our dock out in our backyard. But, we don’t plan on doing any ocean cruising any longer. I’m 79 years old now and, I think, a little long in the tooth for ocean sailing.

[AS] Ok, well, I’m delighted to have caught you. And, thank you very much indeed for speaking to us. And, I’m sure that people will be bombarding you now, but in particular I know that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences would like to speak to you so I’ll get off the telephone.

[GS] OK, and I definitely will not go back to sleep.

[AS] I don’t think that’s going to be possible on a day such as this. My congratulations once again. 

[GS] Well, thanks again.

[AS] Thank you.

[GS] Thanks for calling.

[AS] Thank you, a pleasure, bye, bye.

[GS] Bye.

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