By MADDIE BURAKOFF and SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writers
This is what it feels like to get “the call”: the Swedish Academy of Sciences calls you to tell you that you won the Nobel Prize.
It is usually a dream call that only a special few receive in private. But for the American physicist John Clauser, who received the Nobel for his work on quantum mechanics, it sounded a bit different.
Thanks to a three-hour delay of a busy phone with congratulations and questions from reporters, the call finally got through to him while he was on a live Zoom interview with The Associated Press. And he shared his side of notification and celebration.
“Oh wait. They’re on the phone right now,” she said. “It’s okay. Wait a second. Can I talk to the guys from the Swedish Nobel Committee?
For the next nine minutes, Clauser recounted to the Swedish Academy the difficult path that eventually led to a phone call to award the Nobel prize, albeit a few hours late.
While studying at Columbia in the 1960s, Clauser became interested in designing practical experiments to test quantum mechanics. But his ideas weren’t always well received in the field, he said.
Noted physicist Richard Feynman, who won his own Nobel Prize in physics in 1965, “threw me out of his office,” Clauser said. “I was very offended that I should even be considering the possibility that quantum mechanics might not give the correct predictions.”
But Clauser said he was having fun working on these experiments and thought they were important, “even though everyone told me I was crazy and was going to ruin my career doing it.”
While continuing his work at the University of California Berkeley, he and the late physicist Stuart Freedman “had to build everything from scratch. There was very little money, so I was basically cobbling together junk or junk from the UC physics department,” he told the Academy.
“There’s a lot of unused stuff in the warehouses,” Clauser said. “I’d search around and say, ‘Hey, I can use this.'”
Some of the great physicists of the past poked around in the same way, he noted.
And those experiments, with all their backlash and tight budgets, were the reason he was on the phone with the Swedish Academy decades later.
When the call ended, there was the matter of logistics. Clauser asked the Academy when he would “get some dates and times of what he’s expected to do.”
Of course, there is one thing you definitely have to tell the Academy when they call: “Thank you very much.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.