Monday, February 25, 2013

RIP, Bob Richardson, and the human nature of science

I was saddened to read of the passing of Bob Richardson, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1996 with his colleague Dave Lee and their former grad student (and my thesis advisor) Doug Osheroff.   I only had a handful of chances to meet with Prof. Richardson, and he was a friendly, classy person every time.  In some ways it's a shame that more people don't have the opportunity to interact with really accomplished scientists (and engineers); the chances I've been exceedingly fortunate to have over the years to meet and talk with prize winners and national academy members have been fun professionally and revelatory in terms of showing the human side of these endeavors.  These people aren't infallible or unapproachable, and in my limited experience the vast majority are neither arrogant nor lacking in social skills (I'm looking at you, Big Bang Theory).  It would be nice if TLC or Discovery or someone would tell the stories of these people in an accessible, fun way, instead of wasting precious bandwidth on ghost-hunting moonshiners who horde ice fishing hauling equipment.    


thm said...

As for science stories that have the potential to be told in fun and accessible ways, I would think there'd be a whole lot of potential from the setting of the Cornell low temperature group in its heyday, centered perhaps around the superfluid 3He discovery.

Douglas Natelson said...

I'd watch that. There is a surprising amount of potential humor in there, too. (Read the chapter in Richardson and Smith about dilution refrigerators for some nice gallows humor and jokes at the expense of Oxford Instruments.)

Tobias said...

Speaking of poking fun at Oxford instruments: I've seen this dilbert strip posted on a 20T magnet / dilution fridge of theirs.

The best part in my book about their stuff is that they (at least used to) prefix all their instrument names with an "I", which supposedly stands for intelligent. I spent too much time repairing "intelligent temperature controllers" to concur in the assessment.