February 25, 2003 09:58 | Bits


A quick stop at the patisserie across the street afforded me one again a brief conversation with an old friend. A former english professor from college, whom I never had as a classroom teacher but with whom I'd spent some interesting times with.

On one occasion he had shown me the Nobel Prize in Chemistry his grandfather had won in 1905. The write up for the award states:

"in recognition of his services in the advancement of organic chemistry and the chemical industry, through his work on organic dyes and hydroaromatic compounds"

but I know what it was for specifically: he synthesised the color indigo.

This was, at the time, a major achievement. Blue turns out to be the most difficult color to synthesise and work with, both chemically and with light. Webdesigners know that trying to do any kind of blue fade results in display nightmares, and researchers in laser optics considered the blue laser, and the blue LED, the holy grail in their fields (until recently).

Matthew, my friend the professor, is a man of literature though. The story of his grandfather's Nobel Prize (which he showed me: a huge heavy gold disc) arose when he gave me a copy of his self-published book of poetry and "lieder" (poetry set to music, which at the time he was doing performances of with an acid jazz ensemble).

The book was titled "Indigo".