Thursday, October 14, 2004

Frank Wilczek - thanks and poem

Frank Wilczek has sent out nice thanks for the congratulatory letters he's received, and I hope that he won't complain if his thanks to the people who helped him (not only with physics) are posted on this blog, so that you can read them, too.

Thank you for your message on this joyous occasion. In time I will answer directed messages individually, but that is impractical at the moment. So please consider this a rain check, containing just a few remarks I'd like to share with everyone.

The main thing for me now is to distribute thanks.

First I'd like to thank my parents, who cared for my human needs and encouraged my curiosity from the beginning. They were children of immigrants from Poland and Italy, and grew up in difficult circumstances during the Great Depression, but managed to emerge as generous souls with an inspiring admiration for science and learning. I'd like to thank the people of New York, for supporting a public school system that served me extremely well. I also got a superb undergraduate education, at the University of Chicago. In this connection I'd especially like to mention the inspiring influence of Peter Freund, whose tremendous enthusiasm and clarity in teaching a course on group theory in physics was a major influence in nudging me from pure mathematics toward physics.

Next I'd like to thank the people around Princeton who contributed in crucial ways to the circumstances that made my development and major work in the 1970s possible. On the personal side, this includes especially my wife Betsy Devine. I don't think it's any coincidence that the beginning of my scientific maturity, and a special gush of energy, happened at the same time as I was falling in love with her. Also Robert Shrock and Bill Caswell, my fellow graduate students, from whom I learned a lot, and who made our extremely intense life-style seem natural and even fun. On the scientific side, I must of course thank David Gross above all. He swept me up in his drive to know and to calculate, and through both his generous guidance and his personal example started and inspired my whole career in physics. The environment for theoretical physics in Princeton in the 1970s was superb. There was an atmosphere of passion for understanding, intellectual toughness (!), and inner confidence whose creation was a great achievement. Murph Goldberger, Sam Treiman, and Curt Callan especially deserve enormous credit for this. Also Sidney Coleman, who was visiting at the time, was very interested in our work. Such interest by a physicist I regarded as uniquely brilliant was inspiring in itself; Sidney also asked many challenging questions that helped us come to grips with our results as they developed.

Finally I'd like to thank my fellow physicists more generally. Fundamental understanding of the strong interaction was the outcome of decades of research by thousands of talented people. My theoretical efforts have been inspired by, and of course informed by, the ingenious persistence of my experimental colleagues. Thanks, and congratulations, to all. Beyond that generic thanks I'd like to mention specifically a trio of physicists whose work was particularly important in leading to ours, and who have not (yet?) received a Nobel Prize for it. These are Yoichiro Nambu, Stephen Adler, and James Bjorken. Those heroes advanced the cause of building models of hadronic physics by taking the concepts of quantum field theory seriously, and embodying them in specific mechanistic models, when doing so was difficult and unfashionable. Last but not least I'd like to thank Murray Gell-Mann and Gerhard 't Hooft for not quite inventing everything, and leaving us somet! hing to do.

Finally, the prettiest part is Wilczek's Nobel sonnet:

I don't suppose that colored quarks and glue
Think over much about what they're up to;
They just do whatever comes naturally
And leave the worrying to you and me.

Free spirits! They seemed blithely unconcerned
With sacred lessons we'd with effort learned.
But by invoking then heretical
Wild hypotheses theoretical
I found their workings could be understood:
So the world makes sense, as it damn well should.

The Prize recalls those days of search and find,
Warm notes from friends bring human joy to mind;
My heart is full, as is my thanks to you
My In box also, I'm afraid - adieu!

Congratulations once again, Frank!

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