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William Phillips is a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute of the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In 1997, he was jointly awarded the[…]

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

Question: What was your reaction when you learned you won the rnNobel Prize?

rnWilliam Phillips: Well, my reaction to hearing about the Nobel Prizern was one of shock and disbelief.  In fact, I can remember very, very rnwell when this happened.  I was attending a meeting in California; a rnmeeting of the American Physical Society and Optical Society of America rnmeeting jointly out in California, Long Beach, California.  And the day rnbefore the prizes were announced, a number of us were sitting around rnafter the scientific sessions were over speculating about who was going rnto get the Nobel Prize that year.  And believe me, nobody brought up my rnname.  So, later that night... well it was the middle of the night that Irn got a call I my hotel room to the effect that I had shared the Nobel rnPrize with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Steve Chu, came as a complete rnshock.
rnQuestion: How did your life change after that?

William Phillips: My life changed dramatically.  It’s very difficultrn for me to keep up with all of the invitations that I get to speak aboutrn my work, the size of my research group has grown and that’s made it rnpossible for me to be involved in more and more new kinds of physics, rnbut it’s made it harder and harder for me to be in intimately familiar rnwith all the things that are going on.  So, there’s a kind of a tension rnbetween the joy of doing lots of new things and the desire to understandrn them better and better. 
rnAnother thing that I never would have imagined would have been one of rnthe results of become a Nobel Laureate is that I ended up meeting peoplern who are actually famous.  So, you know, people say, you’re a Nobel rnLaureate, you must be famous.  No, nobody remembers you know, outside ofrn the field in which you’re working, nobody remember who won the Nobel rnPrize even a couple of years ago.  But as a result of being a Nobel rnLaureate, I get invited to things where I’ve met people who are actuallyrn famous.
rnOne of the people that I have met who has been most charming is Dr. Ruthrn Westheimer.  She lives in New York City, and I see her, probably about rnonce a year, and she’s just a wonderfully warm and genuine person.  Justrn a joy to know as a friend.

Recorded on June 4, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman