The glimmer of the Nobel Prize has once again dawned on Harvard, almost a decade after a Harvard professor last received the honor—Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics Roy J. Glauber ’45-’46 received the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced yesterday.
Renowned for having created the field of quantum optics in 1963, Glauber is honored “for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence,” according to a press release from the academy.
Glauber, who was invited to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project while attending Harvard, said his work on quantum optics stemmed from earlier experiments in optics that rarely applied quantum theory.
“A whole science has developed of dealing with light quanta and atoms in very small numbers,” Glauber said. “But in dealing in large numbers, you had to use other calculation techniques, and those were some of the things I developed.”
Physics Department Chair John Huth said he thought Glauber’s work should have been recognized long ago.
“I was completely ecstatic,” Huth said. “I think it was long overdue and Roy is highly deserving of it.”
Glauber shares the prize with fellow American John L. Hall and German physicist Theodor W. Hänsch and will receive half of the $1.29 million prize.
Glauber was fêted at a celebratory session in the Physics Research Library yesterday afternoon with over 200 people in attendance, including University President Lawrence H. Summers and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby.
“It is the kind of research and teaching that Professor Glauber does that makes Harvard such a remarkable place,” Summers said.
According to those who know him at Harvard, Glauber’s love for teaching is as worthy of mention as his achievements in physics.
“Professor Glauber is obviously one of the world’s greatest scientists,” Kirby said. “He has also been, for more than a half-century, one of the greatest teachers, and I find it quite fitting that he declined to cancel his freshman seminar” today.
Students in Glauber’s freshman seminar—Freshman Seminar 25u, “The Atomic Nucleus on the World Stage”—said his devotion to physics and teaching is obvious, even though the seminar only met for the second time yesterday.
“He’s very thorough and complete,” said Alexander Dubec ’09. “He seems to take a lot of care with the seminar, and it seems like he really enjoys what he’s doing.”
As a graduate student 50 years ago, Baird Professor of Science Dudley R. Herschbach, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, remembers Glauber’s brilliance.
“He taught the whole year with no notes at all,” said Herschbach, who took Physics 232, “Electromagnetism” with Glauber.
Glauber also offered Science A-29, then called “Waves,” at the Harvard Extension School.
In addition to fusing his leadership in the field with a passion for teaching, Glauber also instilled the value of learning in his two children, they said.
“It all comes back to education,” said his son Jeffrey M. Glauber, who remembers his father coming home full of excitement from teaching his Core class. “He lives and breathes it, and I hope to pass down what he taught us about the importance of education.”
Although Glauber’s daughter, Valerie G. Fleishman ’92, said she never understood the scribbles on her father’s chalkboard, she did understand the value her father placed on education.
“I think that he’s one of those unique people who found a passion in his work and it’s what he enjoys, teaching and doing physics,” she said.
Glauber joins 42 current and former Harvard faculty members who have also been awarded Nobel Prizes, according to the Harvard website.
The last professor to receive this honor was McArthur University Professor Robert C. Merton, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1997.
—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.