What It's Like to Win the Nobel Prize

Question: What was your reaction when you learned you won the \r\nNobel Prize?

\r\nWilliam Phillips: Well, my reaction to hearing about the Nobel Prize\r\n was one of shock and disbelief.  In fact, I can remember very, very \r\nwell when this happened.  I was attending a meeting in California; a \r\nmeeting of the American Physical Society and Optical Society of America \r\nmeeting jointly out in California, Long Beach, California.  And the day \r\nbefore the prizes were announced, a number of us were sitting around \r\nafter the scientific sessions were over speculating about who was going \r\nto get the Nobel Prize that year.  And believe me, nobody brought up my \r\nname.  So, later that night... well it was the middle of the night that I\r\n got a call I my hotel room to the effect that I had shared the Nobel \r\nPrize with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Steve Chu, came as a complete \r\nshock.
\r\nQuestion: How did your life change after that?

William Phillips: My life changed dramatically.  It’s very difficult\r\n for me to keep up with all of the invitations that I get to speak about\r\n my work, the size of my research group has grown and that’s made it \r\npossible for me to be involved in more and more new kinds of physics, \r\nbut it’s made it harder and harder for me to be in intimately familiar \r\nwith all the things that are going on.  So, there’s a kind of a tension \r\nbetween the joy of doing lots of new things and the desire to understand\r\n them better and better. 
\r\nAnother thing that I never would have imagined would have been one of \r\nthe results of become a Nobel Laureate is that I ended up meeting people\r\n who are actually famous.  So, you know, people say, you’re a Nobel \r\nLaureate, you must be famous.  No, nobody remembers you know, outside of\r\n the field in which you’re working, nobody remember who won the Nobel \r\nPrize even a couple of years ago.  But as a result of being a Nobel \r\nLaureate, I get invited to things where I’ve met people who are actually\r\n famous.
\r\nOne of the people that I have met who has been most charming is Dr. Ruth\r\n Westheimer.  She lives in New York City, and I see her, probably about \r\nonce a year, and she’s just a wonderfully warm and genuine person.  Just\r\n a joy to know as a friend.

Recorded on June 4, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

Become a Nobel laureate means you end up "meeting people who are actually famous."

Related Articles

A controversial theory claims past, present, and future exist at the same time

Our experience of time may be blinding us to its true nature, say scientists.

Back to the Future.
Surprising Science
  • Time may not be passing at all, says the Block Universe Theory.
  • Time travel may be possible.
  • Your perception of time is likely relative to you and limited.
Keep reading Show less

Six disastrous encounters with the world’s most hostile uncontacted tribe

From questionable shipwrecks to outright attacks, they clearly don't want to be bothered.

Culture & Religion
  • Many have tried to contact the Sentinelese, to write about them, or otherwise.
  • But the inhabitants of the 23 square mile island in the Bay of Bengal don't want anything to do with the outside world.
  • Their numbers are unknown, but either 40 or 500 remain.
Keep reading Show less