- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

Try to conjure up the image of a Nobelist — someone who has won a Nobel Prize. One clue: Out of 719 honored since Swedish-born dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel established a foundation for that purpose in 1901, several hundred are alive today, seven of them in the greater Washington area.
Try next to picture salient physical and psychological characteristics of these great achievers and you have some idea of what faced organizers from the Smithsonians Lemelson Center, part of the National Museum of American History, when planning their 100th-anniversary celebration of the prize, titled "Spirit of Innovation."
Their job was made doubly difficult since the talent is spread across the six categories of peace-making, literature, mathematics, physics, physiology or medicine, and economics.
The project — which encompasses an exhibit opening Thursday, plus assorted educational programs and even a self-guided treasure hunt of Nobel artifacts to be found throughout the museum — was done in conjunction with the Smithsonians National Portrait Gallery and Germanys Deutsches Museum, the worlds largest science and technology museum and the model for the history museum "when it was called history and technology," says Lemelson Center Director Arthur Molella. The two museums last worked together 20 years ago for a show on clocks.
The challenge this time wasnt only the coordination involved between the three institutions but the ambition of the project itself — "a combination of art and science," in the words of Deutsches Museum Director Peter Friess, at the museums Bonn site.
Programs on tap this week alone include todays seminar on the relationship between Albert Einstein and the Nobel committee, and tomorrows student workshop on poetry led by Roald Hoffman, a 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry.
Also available are photographs of 80 prize winners and videotaped interviews with winners made at last summers international scientific gathering in Lindau, Germany. A Web site, available later in the week at www.NOfestiBEL.com will offer further commentary and interviews.
Organizers wanted to emphasize the international character of the prize, as well as to provide flesh-and-blood living portraits of a number of the laureates — they ended up with 19 — and, in so doing, appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
"Its a show to bring the laureates alive to you. We really want to inspire young people of all ages," Mr. Molella says. "The interesting thing is, because of the nature of the world today, every one of the people has a strong American connection. We have the lions share now, but this could change."
Jody Williams of the Washington-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is among the non-scientists included. "She knew as a girl that she wanted to do something different," Mr. Molella says. "What stuck with her was when her eldest brother, who is stone deaf, got beat up on. That stayed with her — the idea of defending the underdog."
The Lindau interviews examined childhood influences, sources of creativity, and scientists roles in society. Answers were edited to compare responses.
The exhibit has coincided neatly enough with the issuing of a U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp showing the likeness of Alfred Nobel in profile. In addition, a handsome book containing large black-and-white photographs of Nobelists, complete with some of their predictions for the third millennium, will be on sale for $90 in the museum shop. The book and the look of the show were in the hands of Munich graphic designer Birgit Binner, who is responsible for designing a parallel show for the Deutsches Museum to open next March.
The Smithsonians "Spirit of Innovation" closes Oct. 31.
"Underlying these people (the Nobel laureates) is an incredible passion for what they do," Mr. Molella enthuses, "to the point of defending it to death and the stubbornness to stick with it." The youngest one on view is 51, the oldest 88. Nearly all are still active in their fields.
They are "ordinary people rising to extraordinary measures," he says.
Such people as William Phillips, 52, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D. who was a co-recipient of the 1997 prize in physics for work on the laser cooling of atomic beams, considered one of the major developments of physics in the past few decades.
Its most vital application is in building ultra-accurate clocks to improve space navigation and Global Positioning System satellites, Mr. Phillips said in a late evening telephone interview following choir practice. (He started a gospel choir in his Methodist church in Darnestown.) He was leaving early the next morning to lecture in Ohio. One of the benefits of the prize, he says, is the demand "to go places and meet people."
At Lindau, Mr. Phillips was on a panel discussing "the kind of environments that encourage creativity," which, for him, means "being with other scientists where I can bounce ideas back and forth."
"The greater number of people, the more you are going to learn," he says.
Thats part of his culture at work, and it often happens spontaneously, in the coffee room or in the hallway, he says. He works with four permanent employees among a total 3,000 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is on the faculty at the University of Maryland.
Without the Nobel, he says, "Id be traveling less and struggling more for funding." Lecturing, he finds, "is a way to get out the word that science is fun and exciting, useful and adventurous. There is a lot of neat stuff to learn."
His portion of the $1 million prize, which he shared with two other scientists went to fund his daughters college tuition.
Mr. Phillips will discuss his work with students Friday morning under the title "Innovative Lives: Super Cool Gases." Public programs of the week include Nobelist Elie Wiesel interviewed by NPRs Martin Goldsmith on Thursday evening and Smithsonian curators talking about exhibit artifacts on Thursday and Friday morning and afternoon.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide