Why It’s Best Not to Win the Nobel Prize

Freeman J. Dyson is Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Physics and Astrophysics in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He has taught as a professor at the Institute since 1953, prior to which he was a professor for two years at Cornell University. His work on quantum electrodynamics marked an epoch in physics, with the techniques he used in this domain forming the foundation for most modern theoretical work in elementary particle physics and the quantum many-body problem. He is also celebrated as an author on science and related topics; his books include "Disturbing the Universe" (1966), "Weapons and Hope" (1984), "The Scientist as Rebel" (2006), and "A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe" (2007).
  • Transcript


Question: Are you upset at never having won a Nobel Prize?

Freeman Dyson:  Well I remember Joyce… Jocelyn Bell, the lady who discovered pulsars never got the Nobel Prize and she was here talking to the students just a couple of years ago.  She is now a very distinguished scientist and she discovered pulsars about 40 years ago and anyway, students were asking her, “Are you sorry you didn’t get the Nobel Prize?”  And she said, “Oh no, I’ve been, all my life I’ve just been famous for not having the Nobel Prize.”  And that was actually much better and so I think she is right.  I mean you know it’s much…  If people ask why didn’t you get the prize it’s much better than if they’re asking why did you get it.

Question: Of which honor or achievement are you proudest?

Freeman Dyson:  Well, I would say bringing up six kids who are all productive citizens.

Recorded March 5, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen