Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics, Harvard University, USA
Country of birth: Denmark
Educational background: PhD Physics, MS Physics, and BS Mathematics and Physics, Aarhus Universitet, Denmark
A typical work day
I teach undergraduate and graduate classes and conduct research, work closely with PhD students and post-doctoral fellows on joint research projects, and discuss science with colleagues. I travel to give talks about research, write grant applications and grant reports, serve on committees at the university and other institutions, write letters of recommendation for students, bargain with companies for equipment purchases, and so much more. Running a lab and a research group at a university is similar to running a business: we need funding and have to spend it wisely.
What I enjoy most
Teaching students-I enjoy when students ask questions during lectures. In a real sense, it takes "two to tango." As a teacher, you feel much more stimulated if students participate, and I have had some great students who were truly fun to work with. And I love to be in the lab. When we did our first
slow light experiments, and we first slowed light to the speed of a bicycle, it was late at night-2:00 or 3:00 a.m.-and it was truly amazing to be in completely new territory and worth all the hard work it took to get there. In working with students, I find it particularly gratifying when someone picks up
and starts to be bold in the lab.
Words of wisdom
I find it very stimulating to be around poets, artists, and musicians. The similarities of the creative processes in the sciences and the arts are often not appreciated, and it is important to realize that doing physics is not just "cold and rational." Which topics one picks to study and the way one goes
about it is a very personal decision. My best advice to students: you have to love what you are doing to do it well. Then focus, and above all, believe in yourself.