Montag, August 14, 2006

Steven Chu's Talk

Ola hat auf ihrer Seite auf ein außergewöhnliches Interview mit einem Physik-Nobelpreisträger verlinkt, das ich mir mittlerweile mehrmals angeschaut habe.
Einen Ausschnitt daraus finde ich besonders bemerkenswert: Die Beschreibung der Arbeitsumgebung an den Bell Labs Ende der 70er, Anfang der 80er Jahre. Klingt fast wie eine Beschreibung der Zustände am CIS:

So Berkeley wanted me as a professor, so I accepted, but then they did something unusual, they said, "you can start your group, or, because you've spent so much time here, you also have the opportunity to go somewhere else for a year or two." (...) I decided to go to Bell Laboratories which at that time (1978) was one of the best industrial labs. At that time, they allowed a small fraction of us, 50, 60, to do whatever we wanted.

So, I joined Bell Labs, and my department head said, "Steve, you can do whatever you want, it doesn't even have to be physics. (...) And, by the way, don’t do anything immediately. Spend six months, talk to the people around the lab, and keep an open mind.”

This was a devastating experience for me [laughs], the freedom to do whatever you want, and being told "don’t do what you think you wanna do now", so I spent some time exploring (...) I really felt pressure, because they said, “we really expect great things out of you”.

I don’t want to hear that… (laughs). It’s much nicer to have a small problem that you work on and it’s really cozy… but it did have a real influence me, because it got me into that mode of going and talking to people, outside of my field. And, when I finally started doing things at Bell Laboratories, I started first in some area that was condensed meta physics, where I knew nothing about, but using techniques from my old field, atomic physics, and laser physics.

But it got me into the mode of “I got this crazy idea”, and going to a collegue at Bell Labs and to say “How does this sound”, and they would say, “this is the most stupid thing I’ve heard” (laughs), or “maybe you have something here.”. And it really set the tone for the rest of my life, collaborating with people outside of the area of my expertise. So, it was a wonderful experience.

I must also say, in the years I was there, 78 to 87, there was an economic slump in the mid 70s. Bell Labs had just started hiring people, and there were a group of us, maybe a few dozen, and we were young, we were all put in this position, “do something important, here are the resources of the American Telephone and Telegraph System, we expect you to do something wonderful.” We were there at nights, we were there at weekends, (...) we would party together, and I think, something in the order of 5 or 6 of us got Nobel prices. Over a dozen are in the National Academy of Sciences.

We all were kind of growing up together. And then we had these really wonderful senior scientists there as well. It was this remarkable period of time were everything was exciting and then something would come along that was not in my field, and I would say “wow, this is really interesting”, and we discussed it. And then, people would jump fields, or jump areas, because there was this feeling of excitement of the science. And even though we were doing this (points right) it was alright to move (points left), and it wouldn’t be considered failure because something even more exciting came along, either from the laboratory, or from a collegue’s lab, or from the rest of the world.

-- “So, a positive freedom, freedom in the best sense, but in an environment where it could lead to new levels of understanding.”

-- Yes, a positive, electric athmosphere. You would go to lunch rooms, everybody would go there around noon time, everybody would sit around these big round tables, and would go, “ok, what’s new?”. So people would be seen socializing, but talk a lot about science. And a lot of ideas were invented at those lunchroom tables. So, again it was this real community. So, it was kind of magic. And people close to science, people who knew the areas that Bell Labs was touching, knew that there was something magical going on at that time.