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Interview with Physics Prize Nobel Laureate Klaus von Klitzing

September 8, 2010
Image: AP

DW-TV: Joining us here is Physics Prize Nobel Laureate Klaus von Klitzing. He won the Nobel Prize in the year 1985 for the discovery of the quantum Hall effect. Now I suppose after getting the prize you were probably pretty busy. How long did it take until you could really get back to research?

Klaus von Klitzing: I am always in the laboratory, so if I am at home it's about 50 percent of my time. No, I am always in the laboratory. I have a big group of young students. And I always have to be able to tell new things in order to attend conferences, so I need new material. Therefore, I need to do research and this is the most important thing. To keep up with modern research.

But life probably changed after winning the Nobel prize. I mean your opinion is now important to everybody.

Yes, that's one problem. You have to say something in fields where you are not a specialist. So you know something about physics and you have to say something about global warming. It's also related to physics, but also nuclear energy, weapons, all kinds of things. So this is much more difficult. But you have a lot of connections to people where you can rely on their opinion and you can get some information. And you have to do something for the public, to say this is the right direction, in my opinion, but even Nobel Laureates they disagree sometimes in certain fields. And this is an interesting point to have this discussion, to have a broad range of opinion and then to find the truth.

What do you think distinguishes a Nobel Prize Laureate? What is so special about you?

Special is that unlike with politicians, many people believe that what you are saying is the absolute truth. To a certain degree it's true, but we don't know everything. But to a certain extent you can influence the public. This is some extra burden also because suddenly you discover that what you are saying translates as one to one. And sometimes it's dangerous because as a scientist you don't always have a fixed opinion about all things. It's floating, you are learning all the time. So this is a burden to all of the Laureates.

From about 802 Nobel Prize Laureates, we've had only about 40 women. Do you have an explanation for that?

Yes, it's always more difficult for women in some cultures.In other countries in Islamic countries in Jordan there were more than 50 percent of phyics students who were female. And if you go to France even, they also have more female scientists. So it's got something to do with the environment with the conditions, with the tradition, what is a family. And I think that we have to learn something in Germany about how to support female scientists. To have an environment where they can continue their research. Because if you are away for three years in research, you lose contact with the top scientific questions. So therefore you have to find some solutions, so you can combine both: a family and science.

Thanks for the talk, Klaus von Klitzing.