Hans G. Dehmelt

Hans G. Dehmelt says he "felt like dancing" when he heard that he'd won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1989. But the German-born American citizen was not surprised: "I'd been expecting it, because there were rumors that I was being considered."

Dehmelt was honored for trapping a single electron as well as for isolating a single atom and watching it make quantum leaps. Due to Dehmelt's discovery, physicists had to revise their estimate of the size of an electron by a factor of 10,000.

Accepting the prize was "wonderful," he says. "The physicists walked first into the Great Hall in Stockholm's Town Hall, as decreed by Nobel himself, and as befits the position of physics as the queen of the sciences." Then came chemistry, then physiology or medicine, then economics, then literature. (The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo.)

Since winning the prize, Dehmelt says ebulliently, "My life is now a bed of roses, an absolute bed of roses." He married his second wife after receiving the prize, but he had known her beforehand.

Dehmelt is still active in his laboratory, and his research interests haven't changed their direction: "At my age, one is happy to stick to the tack one has chosen earlier," he says. "But the longer you follow the same tack, the more difficult it gets, and the smaller the return. Still, not many other people study single electrons."

Long-lost acquaintances and strangers alike have approached him since the award. "But I'm never feeling bothered by that," he says. "It's just part of the price."

Because he shared the prize with two other physicists, Dehmelt says, "It really wasn't all that much money." And how did he spend it? "Because the prize money was taxed as `gambler's winnings,' I spent it in the appropriate fashion," he says with a twinkle in his eyes.

George Hitchings, 1988 Prize in Medicine
E. Donnall Thomas, 1990 Prize in Medicine
Edwin Krebs, 1992 Prize in Medicine
Edmond Fischer, 1992 Prize in Medicine
Martin Rodbell, 1994 Prize in Medicine
Return to the Beginning of "After the Prize"

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