Noble Nobel Offices
October 10, 2013 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Something tells me these laureates don't spend much time at the bench, pipetting like goons.
posted by docgonzo at 12:38 PM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

"Who Got Einstein's Office?", a history of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, has one of my favorite book titles ever.
posted by thelonius at 12:48 PM on October 10, 2013

These are great, cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2013

Did they all share the Nobel Prize for cloning humans?
posted by Kabanos at 12:57 PM on October 10, 2013

George Smoot's office has a ceiling cat.
posted by roue at 1:17 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Al Roth deserved that Nobel Prize, but a lot of people deserve Nobel Prizes without being incredibly kind and generous people. Roth, though, is probably as big hearted as he is as big minded. My evidence for this is that I graduated in 2007, and around that time struck up a pen pal email correspondence with him because I had read his book with Sotomayor on two-sided matching and found it to be "life transforming" for me personally. This is an over used phrase, but it was true for me in that the book radically changed how I thought about economics. Whether intentionally or not, it felt like "two sided matching" described explicitly most things I cared about or studied, or if it didn't explicitly, then it wasn't hard to reframe something as a two-sided matching problem. So I wrote him, impulsively, and would tell him about my research and he would kindly and genuinely interact with me about it. He'd read my papers, ask me questions, and just be all around very encouraging. I knew he was busy so I controlled myself and didn't send him a ton of emails, but I emailed him enough to know that he was unusual. He was down to earth, generous in his correspondence, and lacking in any overt condescension or meanness. The opposite in fact -- he struck me as funny and very nice. Like the kind of person you would hope to find when you get to talk to the person who you look up to a lot.

A few years ago, it'd come up in our correspondence that I was going up for tenure soon. He'd asked how I was doing, and encouraged me again in the work I was doing. When he won the Nobel Prize last year, I was exuberant. It was unusual for me to feel like I understood at a reasonably intelligible level what the Nobel Laureates did since economics has such a high degree of specialization, and you basically only learn topically what the other fields really are about, if at all. Even when they're fields that are close enough in proximity to you but not exactly your specific research, it can be hard to really have a handle on what makes a contribution meaningful. So that was exciting as it kind of affirmed what I thought when I first read Roth and Sotomayor's book, which was that this was legitimately important (as opposed to just interesting to me, as that's not really saying much at all since my interests are all over the place). But more than that, I think I was just happy for him because from a distance he had been really nice to me -- a nobody, more or less, in the academic rat race. So I wrote him again to congratulate him, knowing he would be inundated with a million emails and so not expecting anything in return. I wasn't under the pretense that he knew me; I just knew that he didn't know me and yet was always so encouraging and gracious towards me, which for a tenure track academic, can mean a lot just in terms of keeping you going when you're frustrated over the outcome of long projects and having doubts about yourself. Roth wrote me back and offered to write a letter to include in my tenure packet. It wasn't costly for him -- he wrote about two pages worth. It wasn't a "real outside letter". But it meant the world to me. I would frame it on my wall if doing so didn't seem kind of crass.

Anyway, watching Roth from afar, and reading his book with Sotomayor carefully, I think you actually see that his generosity towards others is reflected in his own scholarship. His workshop is pretty elite, but I'm thinking mainly even of his tireless enthusiasm for Gale and Shapley's scholarship. The two-sided matching literature goes back to Gale and Shapley (1962). The "deferred acceptance algorithm" was a powerful result, and Roth has spent his career showing why and how to use it to improve markets. But if you were to only read Roth on them, you would think they hung the moon and his own contributions were insignificant. Whether they were or weren't, though, the point is his posture was so different. He doesn't have the ego, I guess, but is in the position where having the ego is really easy. I look up to him a lot. He's a model of character and scholarship for me. I think about how he seems to treat everyone so respectfully and to give to strangers without asking anything from them in return, and I consciously use that picture of him in my mind to help me navigate relationships in academia -- with students, colleagues, coauthors -- as well as in the kind of big concentrated bets that one can make in academia. I did ultimately get tenure and so I have warm fuzzies whenever I see his picture.
posted by scunning at 1:19 PM on October 10, 2013 [16 favorites]

I misread this as, "Paranormal views of the offices of some recent Nobel Prize winners."

As you can imagine, I was a little disappointed.
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:48 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Really Liked this post
posted by FreedomSBS at 2:02 PM on October 10, 2013

Another nice zoom-aroundable panorama, video from a wingsuit in flight.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something tells me these laureates don't spend much time at the bench, pipetting like goons.

I've actually spent a fair amount of time in the Blackburn lab to use their gear for running enormous polyacrylamide gels (nicely shown in the 'radioactive gels' pan), and you might be surprised how often I've seen the boss lady around those parts. That doesn't go for all scientists, or even biologists, but in my experience the best PIs are those that maintain a day-to-day presence in the lab area. It helps to maintain a connection with reality when you are guiding experiments, especially in biology; the techniques used today are typically radically different than those used 30-40 years ago when these faculty were graduate students, and it is a constant learning process.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 3:18 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

No writers, I notice. Which, given how attractive their offices can be, seems a gratuitous oversight.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:14 PM on October 10, 2013

I refuse to believe that any of those labs are anywhere near that clean and organized in their natural state. I feel horrible for the person tasked with making them presentable for the photos.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 4:19 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

No writers, I notice.

Yeah. I thought I was going to get to see Alice Munro’s desk.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:50 PM on October 10, 2013

I refuse to believe that any of those labs are anywhere near that clean and organized in their natural state.

I'm sure they've been redded up and wiped down, but I imagine you don't do Laureate level work in a sty.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:04 PM on October 10, 2013

« Older Nothing makes a carrot more appealing than turning...   |   Worse, he is wearing a helmet and will be teased... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments