Kavli Banquet: Speech by Donald Lynden-Bell

On the evening of September 9, the Norwegian government held a banquet at Oslo's City Hall celebrating the Kavli Prize and honoring the inaugural laureates. Speaking on behalf of fellow Kavli Prize astrophysics laureate Maarten Schmidt and himself, Donald Lynden-Bell provided these remarks.

 

Your Royal Highness, your Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Astronomers get their inspiration from the beautiful pictures and measurements of the Heavens; you in Norway can get inspiration nearer to home. The American poet Longfellow visited here in 1835 and later wrote:

Othere the old sea captain,
who dwelt in Helgeland,
to King Alfred lover of truth
brought a snow-white walrus tooth,
which he held in his brown right hand.

And Alfred King of the Saxons
had a book upon his knees
and in it wrote the wondrous tale
of him who first set sail
into the Arctic seas.

So far I live to the northward
no man lives North of me,
to the East are wild mountain chains
and beyond them meres and plains
to the westward all is sea.

I first heard these lines literally at my mother's knee in the dark days of the early 1940s, but I now skip 17 years. My friends John Heap and Drummond Mathews asked me to come climbing with them in the Jotunheimen. We arrived in glorious weather and spent a very long day climbing the steep cliffs and ridges of the Smorstabtinden. Next day the weather broke and on hearing that it would remain wet for a week, we packed our wet tents and decided to make for better weather in the Arctic. We drove north crossing over into Sweden and stopped near Kiruna to climb the Kebnekaiser and Kaskasapacta. Looking west from the top we saw those wild mountain chains writhing their way toward Narvik.

Further north there were no trees and the land became rather barren. We crossed into Finland and then back into Norway coming down to the north coast near Lyngen.  Have you ever been to Lyngen?!  We were too late for the Midnight Sun but the grass had grown a brilliant green to catch it. The Sea was a deep deep blue and over to our left gleamed the great white glacier with a central morain, flowing down from the mighty Storr Jekkevarre.

However, it is not my job here to sing praises of your beautiful country, but rather to thank your Royal Highness for so graciously presenting us with our medals, to thank Mr. Kavli for not only inventing the Kavli prize for Astrophysics but also for generously funding Institutes in our subject all around the world from China to the USA, to thank the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for their organisation of the whole event, and to thank the City of Oslo for this wonderful banquet.

Maarten and I are most grateful for the hard work of the Astrophysics selection committee. We are highly honoured by their choice. We owe much to the Universities of Leiden, CalTech and Cambridge and to Clare College within it, which have nurtured us and given us the opportunity to do good science.

Finally I thank you all for coming here tonight to celebrate with us.