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You could say Roy J. Glauber is in a pretty exclusive club--with 776 other geniuses. The UA adjunct professor of optical sciences and Harvard professor of physics recently won a Nobel Prize, which puts him in some great company that includes John Steinbeck, Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa. In a three-way win, Glauber took half (the other two winners get a quarter each) of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics. I chatted up the professor about everything from his illustrious career in academia to being photographed in his "jammies."

Can you talk about your entrance into academics?

I got a scholarship to Harvard in 1941. I was encouraged to learn calculus on my own. ... Then they announced that they were giving most of the graduate courses for the last time ... because the professors were going to war work. I ... started jumping ahead and taking the graduate courses, and by that time, I had 2 1/2 years of college (completed). I had most of the graduate education behind me. At that point, I turned 18, and ... the university gave me a job teaching Army students. Then I was invited out to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to work on the Manhattan Project. ... I worked there in the theoretical division for two years, doing calculations on the critical mass of the bomb and the rate of which it explodes. ... In the beginning of '46, I came back to school--I was still an undergraduate. With this one semester of school, taking distribution courses ... I got my bachelor's degree and then entered graduate school. ... I got my degree in 1949. In '51, I was invited back to Harvard as a post-doc, and then in the subsequent years, they promoted me to assistant professor and finally to tenure in 1956.

How did you get involved as an adjunct professor at the UA?

A colleague ... set up this adjunct relationship 10 or 15 years ago. Being an adjunct professor is not a terribly strong bond, since I have only visited occasionally and given lectures, and I have never received a salary from the U of A. It's a nominal bond, which apparently makes some sort of bookkeeping easier for them in connection with visits and things of the sort.

How did you find out you were receiving the award?

They keep it the darkest secret they can manage. ... They simply make a phone call, which for Americans has always been the middle of the night. In my case, I had not gone to sleep until 3 a.m. in the first place, because I was trying to complete the reading for a course I was going to teach the next day. The next thing I know, there's this loud ringing of the phone that I have to chase down. ... I'm wondering what this may be, a family emergency or more likely someone I know in New Zealand who doesn't know to add or subtract the eight-hour time difference. ... It turns out to be a cheerful voice with an accent ... saying he had good news for me. "At this hour of the night?" I asked. Then he read, in a Swedish accent, their press release ... then says he'll put a couple people on the phone that I might know. They were Swedish professors I'd met years ago. ... I was there in my pajamas, and it took me several hours to get out of my pajamas, because they warned me life was going to change in the next few minutes, and sure enough, every time I put down the phone, it rang again. And then photographers converged ... and some neighbors tried directing them away, but they let one guy through from the Harvard University news service, and he wasn't very modest. He took one picture after another of me in my pajamas on the phone, and then I ran to get a bathrobe, and he took still more pictures. ... The ones that are published are of me in my bathrobe.

So, what did you win your Nobel Prize for?

For a particular work I did mainly in the early 1960s, but it's continued sometime after that. It's called quantum theory of optical coherence. ... The question I faced was, "How does one deal with light quanta mathematically in arbitrary numbers, and even intrinsically indefinite numbers?" That would have not been conveniently possible with the older scheme, and so the mathematics that I introduced to deal with this really has become the language for talking about these multi-quantum problems, in general.

Has the publicity been overwhelming?

I would have to say that the messages have--400 e-mail messages after the first night, then 200 more the next four or five days, and then the mail started coming in. There's quite a bundle of mail I haven't been able to answer yet. In three weeks, you get enough invitations to keep you answering over a year.


More by Michael Petitti


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