Opinions expressed by Nobel prize winners in science subjects

Opinions expressed by some the greatest minds alive today provide inspiration and instruction for all of us, even when they cannot quite agree.

Professor Zhores Alferov, who won the Nobel prize for Physics in 2000 recently initiated a meeting of 24 Nobel laureates in St Petersburg to discuss how science could help mankind.

The Russian magazine Innovations put questions to the delegates and has granted us permission to quote the answers, some of which were predictable but others less so.

The questions were:

1. How would you characterise the scientific meaning of your Nobel research and the extent of its practical applications? Has there been any compatible break-through achievement in the area, and if yes, who is behind it?

2. Judging by today's political, economic and social settings, what does the future of this world depend on, and why?

3. What makes the Earth a dangerous place to live? Are Pugwash based efforts effective enough in the present situation? Can you think of any alternatives?

Eight of the laureates have chosen to go on public record with their replies:

Richard R. Ernst
ETH Zurich
Laboratorium für Physikalische Chemie

1. The consequences of my Nobel research were primarily practical. Through the introduction of the Fourier transformation, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) gained significantly in sensitivity so that it became applicable also to larger biomolecules. Two-dimensional NMR laid the basis for the development of the structure determination procedures of biopolymers in solution, for which Kurt Wuethrich got his Nobel prize in chemistry 2002. Fourier magnetic resonance imaging became a very important tool for clinical investigations of humans, leading after all also to functional magnetic resonance imaging for the study of brain function.

2. The future of this world depends, I am convinced, primarily on thoughtful international interaction. We need a multipolar world co-ordinated by strong international bodies with real power. It is unacceptable that a single nation (or its government) decides on the fate of the world. This can not lead to a stable system and to equal opportunities for everybody.

3. I am mostly afraid of the predominantly monetary considerations which determine economics and politics. Selfishness following one's own advantages, can not lead to a future beneficial for all. I have great difficulties to believe that the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith protects us sufficiently. We need in addition strong ethical and moral guidelines which help us to stay on track.
The control of weapons of mass destruction is not my primary concern, although it is not unimportant, more crucial for me is providing a cultural environment in which human aberrations are less likely to occur.

Charles Townes (USA)

1. My research leading to the laser was an effort to develop a new scientific tool, which the maser and the laser are indeed. However, the laser also has many practical applications and has strongly affected our industry and society in many fields. Although many other scientists and engineers have contributed to the development and use of lasers, I believe there has been no other comparable breakthroughs in the field of optics.

2. The future of the world depends on the attitudes and sense of values of us humans. More technology can be important, but we now have enough technology to feed and care for the world's population if we devote ourselves to this purpose. Most of all, we need to be considerate of others, promoting peace and help for others and avoiding war.

3. Human attitudes towards other humans and carelessness about world resources are what produces dangers for life on earth. We must be sensitive to such problems, discuss and work on them with others, and be ready to sacrifice selfish goals for the good of other humans.

Rolf Zinkernagel

(Simone Schmaderer Secretary, Institute of Experimental Immunology, University Hospital, Zurich
simone.schmaderer@usz.ch )

1. The discovery of the role of major transplantation antigens in T cell recognition was a chance observation made by Peter Doherty and myself in Australia; it was completely unexpected. What should transplantation antigens, i.e. cell surface structures that were somehow involved in organ graft rejection, have to do with immunity against virus infections? This finding has explained the real biological function of major transplantation antigens (MHC-antigens) as presenter molecules for virus, bacteria or other antigen fragments presented on the cell surface to be recognised by T cells.

It has explained why cellular immunity cannot be readily adoptively transferred to naive recipients, quite in contrast to antibodies where serum therapy has been successful for many years. It also has opened up great number of investigations on the role of major transplantation antigen in T cell recognition. The next fundamental discovery on this issue was by Townsend and by Unanue, who described first that 9 to 11 amino acid long peptides were presented by major transplantation antigens. Subsequently Wiley, Bjorkman and Strominger showed by crystallography that major transplantation antigens form a grove where peptides fit in in a semi-specific way. This finding was an eye-opener that immediately made clear how MHC-restricted recognition by T cells functions.

2. From my point of view, the most important impact on the future of this world depends on us humans. The greatest problem of this earth is that there are too many humans, and that we as humans are too egoistic. The only way to change this unfortunate situation is to provide as many individuals as possible with good education and a reasonably safe social environment, so as to reduce fears about poverty, disease and death. Education of women is probably the most important task, because they are the best regulators of family, children and of homes.

3. The earth is not basically a dangerous place. I think we humans render it dangerous. Only long-term effective education and willingness of humans to be responsible will change this.

Lawrence Klein (USA)
(Beverly A. Meyers - bmeyers@ssc.upenn.edu )

At present, I am working on my presentation for the meetings in St Petersburg, but I have briefly taken time out to write some brief answers to the questions that you have sent to me. I hope that my completed paper will explain much more fully what I am aiming for in my present work on the Russian economy.

1. The research on which I am reporting at these meetings deals with two issues of fundamental importance for developments in economic theory or economic science.
(i) In the first place, how difficult is it for a "transition country", as Russia is so classified in multinational analyses, to make a successful shift from strict state planning to a market-based system of economy? allocation among households, producing units, and state bureaux? Of course, the transition can be made, but at what cost and what timing?
It took about five or more years for Russia to emerge from a deep depression that characterised the early period of the new Russian economy. In my paper I show some representative statistics of the irregular state of the economy at the beginning of "transition". The research in this presentation examines contemporary data for the Russian economy since 1995 and finds a significant degree of regularity. The market system, dating back to the path breaking research of Eugen Slutsky, is well known to be prone to cyclical movement under the realistic occurrence of repeated stochastic shocks. In this work, I and my colleagues, find the first phase of cyclical regularity to be in place. In fact the first highly visible stochastic shock, in connection with the default of 1998 is very much in evidence.
(ii) Modern multivariate statistical methods that were originally developed for psychometrics, find good use in our quantitative analysis. They are not new or breakthrough methods for econometrics, but their first important use was made in 1947. Their application to forecasting and business cycle analysis has been only sporadic and has, only recently, led to potential steps forward. The possibility of a significant breakthrough stems from the development of information technology (IT) and data abundance. At the present time, data have been provided much more frequently and over a wider span of data types. Application of such methods in USA, Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, and other economic areas has been fruitful, particularly in high-frequency forecasting, by months or weeks over short time horizons. This can be viewed as a first step in the building of structural models of Russia, for analysing extrapolations over horizons of 3-5 years. Somewhat longer data files will be important for that phase of model building. Of course, the availability of information hardware, as well as software, has been an important enabling factor for us.
2. The future of the world depends on many things, but uppermost in my own way of thinking, is the sustainability of peaceful relations among the different peoples and regions of the world. Not only sustainable peace but sustainable environmental conditions, sustainable resource supplies, sustainable climate, and sustainable physical development are needed.
3. Lack of adequate understanding among peoples of the earth makes the world a dangerous place. Science and technology have enabled nations to make and store weapons that are increasingly dangerous, while our ability to maintain peaceful relations by sensible conflict resolution has not improved correspondingly.The Pugwash approach is valuable, and has certainly contributed to the occurrence of no extreme conflict, such as a world war, in the second half of the 20th Century, but the danger of global conflict is still alive, and a much better job of conflict resolution requires great improvement on the Pugwash methods.

Robert Wilson (USA)

1. The discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background started a revolution in cosmology. At the time, the only number in cosmology was the Hubble "constant". The discovery of the background immediately added a second number and ruled out theories other than the big bang. It is still the best probe of the early universe. The precise measurement of the spectrum of the background by the COBE satellite secured this interpretation. Now measurements of the spectrum of the spatial fluctuations in its brightness and its polarisation (John Carlstrom) are strongly constraining theories of what started the big bang. To my knowledge, there is no significant practical application.

2. Early cultures flourished best by exploiting what they found on earth to the maximum they could. Now that people are a significant influence on the earth, we must change and co-operate globally to use resources in a sustainable way and manage the way we change the earth. Among other things we need to stop or reverse the growth of our population to provide a good life for the people on earth rather than maximising their number.

3. There are dangers at all scales. The focus now seems to be on "weapons of mass destruction", even though they are presently an insignificant cause of death. I don't believe that the dominant governments of the world are sufficiently focused on preventing the spread of nuclear and biological weapons to people who might use them.

Ivar Giaever (USA)

1. The scientific impact of my Nobel Prize work was that it confirmed the BCS -(Bardeen -Cooper and Schriefer) new theory of superconductors. At the time (~1962) the work held great promise for the computer industry because it was possible to construct active devices much smaller than the semiconducting devices that existed at that time. As it turned out it led to a new method to measure very small magnetic field through the Josephson effect, but it has had little large commercial interests. The very big event in the field of superconductivity after that was the discovery of high temperature superconductivity that also led to a Nobel Prize for Bednorz and Miller. This work has also had little commercial impact, the best known are superconducting magnet for Medical Imaging.

2. The future of the world depends on proper and careful use of new technology, for example the energy, pollution and global warming crisis can be solved with proper use of nuclear energy.

3. I think of the earth as a pretty safe place to live, anyway it is the only place we have got. Past and recent existing conflicts stem from religion, which is ironic. If we could become tolerant (as most religions purport to teach) of each others' beliefs most conflicts would go away. (Irish Catholics and Protestants, Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Christians and the list goes on and on).

Heinrich Rohrer (Switzerland)

below are my answers to the query questions. It should be remembered, that Nobel laureates in science simply made important contributions to the scientific and technical developments. They do not hold the world answers in their hands.

1. Our prize was given for "Their design of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope." The Scanning Tunnelling Microscope and the family of "near field microscopes" developed from it serve as microscopes and tools, they provide atomic and molecular scale imaging, manipulation and modification of various properties and functions of condensed matter. They have become the pervasive and indispensable tool for science and technology on the nanometer scale.
2. Sustainability in all its variations.
3. The constant strive to rule over others, from individual to nations.

Zhores I. Alferov (Russia)

1. The scientific meaning of my research leading to the Nobel Prize is based on forecasting and realising through experiment a number of new principles regulating the electron and the light currents in crystals. Leo Esaki, who got his 1973 Nobel Prize for tunnelling phenomena in semiconductors and superconductors, once referred to heterostructures as man-made crystals, as opposed to God-made crystals, i.e. homogeneous semiconductors. The whole breakthrough became possible owing to the 1967 discovery of the first 'ideal' heterostructures AlGaAs and the new physical processes taking place in them.
Later, heterostructures gave birth to a new branch in physical research. The 1985 and 1998 Nobel Prizes of Klaus von Klitzing (discovery of the quantized Hall effect) and Robert Laughlin, Daniel Tsui, and Horst Stoermer (discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations) crowned research in no other area but heterostructures.
Fibre-optic communications and mobile phones would never be there if it were not for heterostructures. We might as well be facing a prospect of large-scale solar energetics. Semiconductive heterolasers already came to be the basic type of lasers used in communications, medicine and industry.
It is a great pleasure to know that the fundamental research results in the field of heterostructures and new electronic components were reached in my laboratory in the Ioffe Institution. An indispensable contribution to the theory of electron transportation in heterostructures came from G. Kremer, who shared the Nobel Prize with me. Within our institution, the following pieces of scientific inquiry are particularly worth mentioning: laser research by R.F. Kazarinov and R.A. Suris, fluid epitaxy in heterostructures by D.N. Tretiakov and V.M. Andreyev, and recently research into complex quantum 'knots' by P.S. Kopiev, N.N. Ledentsov, V.M. Ustinov and V.A. Sh'ukin. Pioneer research into molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) was conducted in the USA by A. Cho, while MOCVD based epitaxy research was done by R. Dupuis. The American physicist and engineer N. Holonyak made a great contribution into development of lasers and light diodes.
2. The future of humankind depends on finding environmentally friendly ways to produce energy. No heat energetics will ever satisfy the ecological condition. When people talk about the high prices of solar energy as opposed to atomic, they usually forget just how much the nuclear weapons production programs are costing us, and nuclear energy is nothing but a waste product of nuclear weapons. Co-operative actions taken by developed countries might speed up the solar energy conquest. It is also very significant that the Sun will never be anyone's private property.
3. As the great U.S. scientist John Bardeen, the only physicist to share two Nobel Prizes, used to point out: 'That science knows no national boundaries is an old story to scientists but is perhaps not as well appreciated by the general public'. The Pugwash initiatives have been a serious contribution to the peace process, but the world would never be saved from atomic war if the USA had not been not outmaneuvered in their AB monopoly. Today, scientists from all over the world would do right to unite their efforts against terrorism, fighting terrorism per se, as well as economic terrorism that too often leads to bloodshed. Modern civilisation should prioritise high quality education and medical care and finally do away with super-profit hunting.

Nobel Meeting in St Petersburg
Innovations Magazine
Yuri Neshitov, Contacts and Technologies Director of Innovations

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