Wednesday, October 13, 2004

An Encounter With Dr. Douglas Osheroff

It’s a very refreshing experience to meet great people every once in a while. Sheikh Nuh says in his talks that the soul thirsts for wisdom, and good company.

I had the opportunity of observing a Nobel Laureate today, a Dr. Douglas Osheroff. His autobiography can be found here. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1996, sharing it with three other colleagues for the discovery of superfluidity in Helium-3, whatever that means.

Dr. Osheroff came off as an archetypical sweet, old man. Slightly hunched over, grasping the arms of the sofa he was sitting on, he spoke in a low, consonant voice and placed the quips flawlessly to keep the students involved. I suppose Americans are generally well-known for their easy-going attitude, a tendency to not take things too seriously and tremendous sense of humour. However, I particularly liked his insistence on humility.

Upfront, he said that he was not looking for the discovery that lead to the Nobel Prize, and maintained that most scientists that get Nobel Prizes are just ordinary people. Perhaps as consolation, he opined that although Stanford is home to about seventeen Nobel Laureates, it endows no particular advantage on an educational institution to excel. Obviously he was addressing the scientific community’s (and my university’s, no doubt) collective ambition for the Nobel Prize or some such appellation of achievement; I share no such ambition.

Side Note: Too many professors I have seen are quite taken by the concept of the Nobel Prize. One such Organic Chemistry professor of mine insisted on mentioning something of the Nobel Prize in almost every lecture, having had a Laureate as his supervisor during his postgrad at Harvard.

However, reading his autobiography where he talks candidly of his academic troubles, watching an interview and hearing him talk up-close and personal, it is truly gratifying to see people with the instinctive insight to insist on humility and not looking at oneself as above others.

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)