CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The Nobel Prize for Physics 1977

The Nobel prizes were founded under the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish manufacturer of explosives. They were first awarded in 1901, with prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace; in 1968 the Bank of Sweden put funds at the disposal of the Nobel Foundation for a prize in economics. Prizewinners and others can make proposals; the decisions are the responsibility of a committee of Swedish scientists appointed by the Foundation. The announcement is made in the autumn; the prizes are awarded in December, and, excepting the prize for peace, in Stockholm.

My three immediate predecessors in the Cavendish chair, J.J. Thomson, Rutherford and W.L. Bragg, had all been awarded the prize. (Rutherford's was for chemistry, because his work on sorting out the radioactive elements was classified in that way. In view of Rutherford's classification of science into physics and stamp collecting, this gave rise to some jokes.) I really did not expect to follow them, because the prize was usually given for one startling discovery, such as a new fundamental particle (Cecil Powell at Bristol), a basic new theory like quantum mechanics (Heisenberg and Schrödinger) or a very important device such as the transistor. I did not think I had done anything of this kind. Certainly I was aware that I had introduced some basic new ideas into our understanding of amorphous conductors, but many of these were not accepted by everyone-and one, the 'minimum metallic conductivity' did in fact turn out to be wrong. Before about 1975 I hardly thought about it.

In that year I was invited to go to Linköping in Sweden to receive the degree of Doctor of Technology, Honoris Causa. My host was the professor of physics, Karl Berggren, who had worked with me in Cambridge and who is a close personal friend. I remember at the ceremony the young Swedish king, and the long orations in Swedish in which the only word I could recognize was 'Linköping', repeated every minute or so. In some casual conversation the Nobel prize was mentioned and Karl, who must have been in the know, said 'of course you are high

-136-

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A Life in Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
  • Chapter One - Parentage and Childhood 1
  • Chapter Two - School 5
  • Chapter Three - Cambridge 1924-27 9
  • Chapter Four - First Research 19
  • Chapter Five - Copenhagen 1928 24
  • Chapter Six - Cambridge and Göttingen 1929 30
  • Chapter Seven - Manchester 1929-30 35
  • Chapter Eight - Cambridge 1930-33 39
  • Chapter Nine - Bristol 1933-39 46
  • Chapter Ten - The War 1939-45 58
  • Chapter Eleven - Bristol 1945-54 70
  • Chapter Twelve - Invitation to Cambridge 98
  • Chapter Thirteen - Cavendish Professor 1954-71 102
  • Chapter Fourteen - Some Research Up to 1960 116
  • Chapter Fifteen - Master of Caius 1959-66 121
  • Chapter Sixteen - Non-Crystalline Semiconductors 130
  • Chapter Seventeen - The Nobel Prize for Physics 1977 136
  • Chapter Eighteen - Honorary Degrees 142
  • Chapter Nineteen - Taylor & Francis 146
  • Chapter Twenty - Talented Children 148
  • Chapter Twenty One - Anti-Concorde 150
  • Chapter Twenty Two - Religion 152
  • Chapter Twenty Three - Looking Back 160
  • Appendix 1 164
  • Appendix 2 172
  • Appendix 3 176
  • Appendix 4 187
  • References 194
  • Index 195
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