We have just heard the sad news that Roy Glauber died. Roy was our friend, and for more than 20 years he was a sweepingly charismatic part of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony—he was “The Keeper of the Broom,” who almost every year would sweep paper airplanes from the stage during the Ig Nobel ceremony, where he was beloved for his intellect, charm, and tidyness, and for his deadpan comic timing.
Roy was also a physicist of some note. He was one of the atomic pioneers at Los Alamos, when he was still a college student, then later became a Harvard physics professor, and in 2005 was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics. You might want to read our little tribute to Roy on the announcement, in 2005, that he was being awarded a Nobel Prize “for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence.” Roy discovered more about light—what light is, and how it behaves—than almost all the rest of humanity combined had managed to do.
(I was tickled when Roy phoned me shortly after his return home from the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm. He said, with great Glauberian joy, that all the reporters there had showed more interest in him than in any of the other new Nobel laureates. Then Roy paused. A long pause. “But all they wanted to ask about,” he said, with a probably unique blend of pride, bitterness, and amusement, “was that damn broom and the paper airplanes.”)
Since then, Roy most years did double duty at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony—physically presenting Ig Nobel prizes to some of the new winners, and yes, continuing to sweep paper planes. Roy also had roles (generally non-singing) in most of the Ig Nobel operas.
We will miss Roy very much. And we will continue to treasure the now-famous broom that he entrusted to us (an action Roy took with glee many years ago, so that he, himself, would not have to bother to remember to bring it the ceremony every year).
Here are a few action photos of Roy at various Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies.
By the way, an odd burglary happened some years ago to at Roy’s house: someone stole Roy’s Nobel Prize!
UPDATE: Obituaries in Physics World, the Harvard Crimson, the Boston Globe, New York Times.