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The pleasure of teaching


Benefits of winning the Nobel Prize
Antony Hewish Astronomer
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But coming back to these meetings, they give you the chance to first of all meet the students. There’s… there’s an afternoon when laureates are invited just to sit at a table and students gather round and you spend the afternoon just chatting informally to them and they can ask you any question that they like. And it’s where you… where you have a nice lively afternoon with all sorts of questions being shot at you; not just about your own subject, because they’re not very well versed in that, but those sort of things are very interesting and you get invited to lecture around the world, some of which you can accept and some of which you can’t because it interrupts with life. But I have been to most countries now doing that kind of thing, and Nobel does lead on in a pleasant way to all sorts of opportunities which are jolly… jolly pleasing, if you forget nastiness like Fred Hoyle. The whole thing is really a wonderful experience. It was… it was sad that Martin Ryle’s health was failing and he couldn’t enjoy it himself and that his wife, Rowena, couldn’t… couldn’t go to Stockholm because I think she would… she would have loved it. But let me give you another sort of Nobel memory. They invite you back to Stockholm on… on occasions, like the centenary of the first award, which happened in 2001. That was… that was the centenary of the first Nobel award, and we were all invited back to this ceremony and we had… had to give lectures up and down… up and down Scandinavia and… and I was dispatched to Tromso to give a couple of lectures up there. And while I was there Desmond Tutu happened to be there also because he’s… he’s a peace prize man and he… he was collecting most of the… of publicity of course, because everybody knows about Desmond Tutu. But I had the benefit of sitting next to him at a… at a dinner party, he was enormous fun, great sense of humour, and I was telling him about the time – we shared experiences about getting the prize, and I said that while I was there I went to the… to the Elizabethan theatre they have – they have a wonderful theatre in Stockholm at Drottingholm and… and it’s a sort of Elizabethan era theatre with everything intact, it’s a royal theatre and it was closed down for some reason because royalty didn’t take any interest in it for a while. And so you have this original theatre with all the creaking stagecraft workings still and one of the things that happens is… is they will lower a throne down from the sky, this sort of thing happens in Handel’s operas when people get taken up to heaven, and you can sit on this throne and get winched up into the clouds in the wings. And I did that and I was telling all this to… to Desmond Tutu and, just as we were passing, we said goodbye, he said: ‘See you in heaven!’ Which I thought was rather nice because I’ve been to heaven, you see, I’d told him that. So I said I’d been to heaven and then he looked, his eyes opened wide and I explained how I’d been to heaven, and he was… he was fun to be with. But these are the sort of memories you carry around with you and Nobel does… does have a lasting effect.

Antony Hewish (1924-2021) was a pioneer of radio astronomy known for his study of intergalactic weather patterns and his development of giant telescopes. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974, together with fellow radio-astronomer Sir Martin Ryle, for his decisive role in the groundbreaking discovery of pulsars. He also received the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969.

Listeners: Dave Green

Dave Green is a radio astronomer at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. As an undergraduate at Cambridge his first university physics lecture course was given by Professor Hewish. Subsequently he completed his PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory when Professor Hewish was head of the radio astronomy group, and after postdoctoral research in Canada he returned to the Cavendish, where he is now a Senior Lecturer. He is a Teaching Fellow at Churchill College. His research interests include supernova remnants and the extended remains of supernova explosions.

Duration: 3 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2008

Date story went live: 25 June 2009