Nobel Prize Winner to Become a Visiting Faculty Member
Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dudley Herschbach wanted to be a cowboy since he was 6 years old.
“My dad would call me ‘High Ho Silver’ because I thought I was the Lone Ranger,” he said. “I’ve identified with the romantic notion of Texas for many decades.”
In the fall, Herschbach’s dream will come true, in part, as he will come to Texas A&M to teach chemical physics classes and work at the Institute for Quantum Studies.
Herschbach is a molecular chemist and a professor at Harvard University. He will remain on the faculty at Harvard on a leave that he calls a “perpetual sabbatical.”
“I am very impressed with a lot of scientific notions going on in Texas,” he said. “It will be a new adventure.”
In 1986, Herschbach and two other scientists won the Nobel Prize for developing methods to test how chemical reactions take place between molecules.
Herschbach explained how his research techniques contributed to the study of chemical elementary processes.
“Suppose you could only study human psychology by flying a blimp over a football stadium and listening to the murmur of the crowd,” he said. “You would not learn as much about human psychology as if you could eavesdrop on people in the crowd. We developed a method, equivalent to eavesdropping on the people, that allowed us to study what the molecules were doing.”
He said people didn’t think that could be done, but now those methods are used worldwide.
Marlon Scully, physicist at A&M’s Institute for Quantum Studies, said Herschbach is a world-class teacher and an expert on the history of science.
“He’s an asset in the research arena and in fostering the intellectual development of graduate and undergraduate students,” Scully said. “Dudley is a very interdisciplinary, eclectic intellectual.”
Herschbach said that promoting work in the area of chemical physics and interacting with scientists and students at A&M to bring new perspectives on research in chemistry are goals.
Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science, said Herschbach has a wealth of knowledge and experience that will attract students to A&M.
“Science is like a football team,” Newton said. “If you get some really good players, more will follow.”
Growing up as one of six children, Herschbach said his family did not know anyone who had gone to college and he had no idea he would become a professor or a scientist. He said his interest in science started when he was 11 years old and his grandmother gave him a National Geographic Magazine containing star maps.
Herschbach said he was inspired by the magazine and began making his own star maps, often climbing trees at night to look at the sky.
“I got more and more interested in science and math as I went through school,” he said. “I joined the football team in high school. That’s what got me interesting in studying how molecules collided.”
Herschbach was a talented athlete who played football for Stanford University his freshman year. Although he decided not to continue his sports career, Herschbach said he was invited to try out for the Los Angeles Rams.
But for all of his accomplishments, Herschbach said his most recognized achievement occurred last year.
“There’s something that tops everything,” he said. “I was a guest voice on ‘The Simpson’s.’ I was on one of their Halloween programs, the ‘Tree House of Horror.’”
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