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Speech given by Dr. G. Herzberg at dinner in his honour at Government House, Ottawa, Tuesday, 30 November, 1971


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Speech given by Dr. G. Herzberg at dinner in his honour at Government

House, Ottawa, Tuesday, 30 November, 1971

Herzberg, Gerhard


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Sp eec h セゥカ」ョ@ by Dr. G. iャ・イコ「・イセ@ at dinn e r in his honour

a t Governm e nt !louse, Ottawa, Tu es day,




You r Excell e ncies , Mr. Prime Minist e r, Ladies and Gentlem e n: I am deeply touched by th e honour that you, Your Exce ll e ncies , have done me in having this delightful dinn e r f or me , and that you, Sir, have done me in addressing me in

such セ・ ョ・イッオウ@ terms. On a few previous occasions I have h a d

tl.c pr ivilege of being invited to these b e autiful surr o undin g s

3nd b e ing entertained by Your Excellencie s , who know s o we ll how t o make your guests feel comfort a ble and r e lax e d and e njoy

yo u r hospitality. When I carne to thi s country with my wif e


ye ars ago as a refu gee (incidentally with exactly $2.50 in

my po cket ) I could not have dreamed that one day I would be h o noured in such an extraordinary way by the Government of Ca n a da .

It is obvious that the work that has earned me th e

Nobe l Prize was not done without a great deal of help . Fir s t

o f a ll, while at the University of Sa s katchewan I had the full and understanding support of succ es sive Presidents and of th e Fac ulty of the Unive rsity who, und e r very stringest conditi o ns, did their utmost to make it possible for me to proceed with my

s. i e ntific work. It was the fir s t President of the University

o f Sa s katchewan, Dr. Walter C. Murray, who was stimulated by a tl1e n junior staff member, John Sp inks, now the President of t he Uni v e r s ity of Saskatchewan, to invite me to come to Saskatchewan. Indee d, this was the only firm offer of a position that I had a t that time.

. Since I carne to the National Research Council



ago I have had the support of the President s of NRC, from C . J . Ma ckenzie, E.W .R. Steacie and Guy Ballard to the present

j'e3i d e nt, Dr. Schneider . I would like particularly to pay

エセゥ「 オエ ・@ to th e late Ned Steacie. As soon as he heard that I was

not e ntirely happy in the United States, he sugg ested that we ha v e a discussion about the possibility of my corning here; later

t1c p e rsuaded me to take on the Directorship of the Physics

Di vi s ion . He also taught me how to direct a division, namely,

not to tell people what to do but mainly to find bright people .

... /2


Lns t, but by no means lea s t, I mu s t me ntion my ind e btedness

to all my collaborators 、オイゥョセ@ all these years. I shall

!tal name th e m all individually but s hall mention only one

na me . I was extraordinarily lucky when the most brilliant

s tu de nt I had during my university career agreed to join me a t NRC ri g ht from the beginning and help me to se t up

a l ab oratory in spectroscopy. I am not exagg eratin g when

I say that without Alec Douglas's constant help, his

crit ical judg ment and his experimental skill, I would not

be s tanding h e re now. Another p e rson to whom I ow e a g r ea t

dea l is my t e chnical assistant for 20 years, Mr. Jack

Sho o s mith , who helped me in all the experimental work with

g r ea t efficiency and devotion. I am glad that both he and

Al e c Douglas and many of my oth e r collaborators, past and pre sent , as well as former Presidents and the present

Pre sident of NRC, are here to-ni g ht. I appreciate, Your

Excellency , the implication of your invitation to them t ha t this honour, the Nobel Prize, is an honour to the me mbers of our spectroscopy laboratory and to the National Rese arch Council.

There has been a tend e ncy on the part of the p ub lic and the press to think that with the award of a No bel Prize the international status of Canadian science

has s uddenly changed. I believe that the respect for

Cana dian science and Canadian scientists throughout the

scie ntific world has not chan ge d one iota. What has

chan ge d is the public knowled ge o f this respect . There

are to-day jus t as many internationally recognized Ca nadi a n scientists as there we re five weeks ago, and amo n g them are quite definitely s everal of Nobel Prize ca li b re.

By building the Nation a l Arts Centre and by othe r acti o n s the Government of Can a da has shown that the peo ple of this country are not interested in mere

s ur vival as a national g oal, that they want to support the pe rforming arts, as well as the fine arts and literature. Wh at I would like to emphasize is that pure science is an other of the activities that lifts us above a purely


mercenary status and that the suppo rt of science for cultural

l' t.:<l0<) flG alone should not be ne c;lected . In lhis connection

it is interesting to record th a t the Nobel medal which I

sha ll be receiving next weel< ha s a Latin inscription from Virgi l, the same for all four prizes (even though otherwise the medals are different), which is

"Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes"

for which, in the book which was sent to me, only a French translation is given

" Qu ' i l est doux de voir la vie humaine s'embellir par !'invention des arts"

or in English:

"It is wonderful to see life enriched by the invention of the arts".

Clearly the Nobel Foundation considers the Prizes in the

Sc iences to have the same purpose as the Prize in Literature, name ly, to reward contributions to the human spirit, i.e., to the cultural benefits of mankind.

In science, of course, such contributions often

lead to material benefits to mankind. Since one cannot

pred ict discovery these material benefits are usually quite unexpec ted and not foreseen by the scientists involved

(no r of course by anyone else). The motivation of many

scie ntists working in pure science is the striving for

kno wledge for its own sake. Applications can rarely be

foreseen and are up to the technologist to find on the basis of the work of the pure scientist.

In a speech last March I compared somewhat jokingly the present situation in science with the situation in the

Army . I said: "Recent reports indicate that for every

pr ivate in the Army there are four of higher rank. Now it

appe ars to me that for every working scientist there are four persons spending their time deciding how and where and

when he should work''. Some of my friends have warned me

tha t after receiving the Nobel Prize I would now belong to

this higher rank. May I say that I have every intention of

... I




scient ists once the first flurry connected with the Prize

is over . Indeed my future happiness will depend on how

s ucce s sful I shall be in this effort .

Thank you again, Your Excellencies, for this memo rable occasion with which you have so greatly

l1onoured me and, with me, the National Research Council and the many brilliant collaborators who have made our laborato ry known throughout the world.


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