COMMENT: Singularity of success, plurality of background
NOBEL-WINNING scientists come in all shapes and sizes, thrown in with differing backgrounds and personalities. There is no case of one size fits all. Some are serious, others are ebullient. Some are talkative, the rest are taciturn.
The discoverer of electron, Professor J.J.Thomson, is described as serious while the discoverer of nucleus, Professor Ernest Rutherford, is viewed as ebullient. French Nobel laureate Prince Louis de Broglie was very talkative while his star contemporary Professor Paul Dirac was reserved.
Rutherford was a farm boy from New Zealand who went to Cambridge in 1897 under a scholarship to study under J.J. Thomson, who was the head of the then centre of Physics --the Cavendish Laboratory.
In his book Uncertainty, David Lindley vividly compares the two characters as follows: "Rutherford and his mentor were antipodean in character as well as geographical origin. J.J. was decidedly old-school, dry in manner and rather reserved, while Rutherford, a boisterous colonial fellow and a keen sportsman, plowed into Cambridge life in happy ignorance of its minute gradations of class and social status. Rutherford was self-confident and generally unselfconscious, but quite shrewd enough to relish his own bumptiousness."
The other pair, de Broglie and Dirac, were also poles apart not only in social background but also in personality and character. De Broglie was described by his sister in Joan James' book Remarkable Physicists -- From Galileo to Yukawa in the following endearing manner: "This little brother had become a charming child, slender, svelte, with a small laughing face, eyes full of mischief, curled like a poodle. His gaiety filled the house. He talked all the time even at the dinner table where the most severe injunctions of silence could not make him hold his tongue, so irresistible were his remarks."
Dirac suffered during his childhood under his authoritarian father who demanded that communication in the house must be carried out only in French.
Being poor in the language, Dirac resorted not to communicate at all and he bore a deep-seated resentment towards his father. When he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, he purposely snubbed him by not inviting him to the award-giving ceremony.
He only invited his caring mother who had been all along eating with him in the kitchen to keep him company.
Family background does play a crucial role in moulding characters. Despite adverse conditions, be it at home or at work, these remarkable scientists stoically soldier on and find a niche for themselves in the competitive world of Science. They leave their footprints in the sands of time and their great works in eternity.