“There’s something amazing in the field”
Telephone interview with Didier Queloz following the announcement of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics, 8 October 2019. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
Didier Queloz says that the excitement surrounding the search for exoplanets has never diminished since his first discovery 24 years ago. He was at a scientific meeting when he learnt of his Nobel Prize and Adam Smith caught him on the phone as he was rushing back to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.
Didier Queloz: Didier, yes.
Adam Smith: Hi, my name’s Adam Smith. I’m calling from Nobelprize.org, the website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm.
DQ: Oh, hello.
DQ: Yes, I’m in the car, is that fine?
AS: That’s fine. First of all, many congratulations.
DQ: Thank you very much.
AS: I know lots of people have been searching for you. How did you actually hear the news?
DQ: Well, it came up as a complete surprise, because I got a call from the press office of Cambridge and I was in the middle of a scientific meeting with colleagues, and then I stopped breathing … [Laughs]
AS: [Laughs] And you’re breathing now or only barely?
DQ: Well I’m still shaking a lot, I must say. The good stuff is that since I was in a scientific meeting, I mean, that we had already a scientific celebration with my colleagues, which I think was exactly what I … was appropriate and what I needed at that time. I mean it’s so big, I mean it’s so emotional, like a kind of a wave. It came up so much as a surprise to me, so it’s just unbelievable. I’m still completely stunned by the news. And it’s just an invaluable and fantastic news for this field of research which is now growing so fast, about dealing with exoplanets and life in the universe. I’m so glad, I mean I’m so glad the Nobel Prize committee for this. It’s just amazing.
AS: It’s 24 years and 2 days since you announced the first exoplanet in Florence at that meeting. Does today’s excitement rival the excitement you felt when you saw that first evidence?
DQ: Well, I mean, absolutely, there’s something amazing in the field. The excitement for the field has never decreased from the beginning. And the emotions to get award to the Nobel Prize for that 25 years after, in a way it’s just the acknowledgement of the excitement of what we have been doing, and definitely the emotion that I’m having right now is kind of reward of all this work that we’ve been doing. I mean we have to remember that at the beginning, I mean most of the people were very sceptical about all these discoveries so it is just this … it’s a climax of the story right now. And I’m still trying to understand exactly what’s going on frankly.
AS: Well, it’s a lovely validation of the whole field, yes indeed. And you found that planet as your PhD project; I mean most people would be happy with just a Nature paper, but now you have a Nobel Prize from your PhD as well.
DQ: Yeah, indeed, you know I’ve been talking a lot with Michel Mayor, my supervisor in these days, and Michel always say something very nice to me; He said “I mean the quality of the work and the creativity, I mean it’s not related to the age of the people.” So I feel pretty easy with that, I mean I don’t really care and anyway in my mind I still feel like a PhD student when I’m doing research. So I’m fine with that.
AS: How lovely. There’s enough excitement around already, but we now know of more than 4,000 exoplanets and I think they’re being discovered all the time. What are you most excited about currently in the field?
DQ: Well, I mean I agree we know a lot of them, but we’ve still so much to learn. I mean, they’re very little planets that look like the Earth right now and we’re just barely trying to understand the planetary formation as a whole. And tomorrow there will be people addressing the question of the possible atmosphere content and evolution of the atmosphere, and one day, eventually, we’ll be talking about life. And all this is as much exciting as detecting the first planet. And the detection of the first planet was the trigger of all this, and that’s … I guess that’s what the Nobel Prize is acknowledging right now.
AS: Indeed. It’s such a joy to speak to you, thank you. And I look forward to speaking more when you come to Stockholm in December.
DQ: Yeah, sure, with pleasure.
AS: Thank you so much.
DQ: Okay, thank you, have a good day.
AS: You too, bye.
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