Physics for me is fun and an adventure. Even though it is one of the loftiest of logical intellectual pursuits, even among the sciences, doing physics can be an art. In the hands of its greatest and most famous practitioners, it has produced some wonderfully elegant theories and examples of logical reasoning; examples so elegant, and so perspicacious, that the excitement and sense of wonder I experience on finally understanding them is equal to that which I experience on admiring the world’s greatest works of art, music, literature or architecture.
My offer under the Tanner Scheme, and Neil subsequently allowing me to read Theoretical Physics, was pivotal. He was inspiring, and although he himself was an experimentalist he made sure he found the best and most dynamic theoretician to tutor us – none other than Chris Llewellyn-Smith, eventually Head of Physics at Oxford and subsequently Director of CERN and provost of UCL! Neil instilled a strong sense of self-reliance which was valuable preparation for success in postgraduate work. I was lucky enough to have Rudolf Peierls as a supervisor, a former student of Heisenberg and one who had also worked with some of the other all-time greats such as Dirac, Pauli and Landau. To say that being supervised by him was inspirational is an understatement indeed – it was a wonderful springboard for my research career applying theoretical physics to night vision devices, solar energy and optical fibre communications, the backbone of the internet and the world wide web.
To Physics students, I would say try to learn to love the elegance of the theoretical and experimental techniques that tease out nature’s secrets. By all means strive to do well in exams but, above all, learn to love the subject and inspire, in turn, the next generation of physicists. Indeed, I would say the same to any student whatever their subject.