The Golden Plate

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

Prof. Laughlin received a Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1999. This honor is not academic, but instead reflects a person's celebrity. In 1999, for example, the Academy also inducted Steve Case (then Chairman of America Online), Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes), R. L. Stine (author Goosebumps), Marcy Carsey (co-founder of Carsey-Werner) and Pleasant Rowland (inventor of the American Doll). The event is opulent on the scale of the Academy Awards but nonetheless poorly known to the public due to the organizers' dislike of publicity.

The events in 1999 took place over three days. They began with a gala evening reception on the lawns of Mount Vernon with appearances by Mike Wallace and General Colin Powell, singing by Patti Austin and a crack military chorus, and a massive fireworks display over the Potomac. It ended in the National Cathedral with a moving speech by Coretta Scott King followed by temperature-elevating show by Aretha Franklin. In between were series of excellent presentations by past winners and celebrities, some of which were in Ford's Theater, the place of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Civil War historian Shelby Foote gave particularly excellent talks there. Prof. Laughlin met George Lucas briefly in the Willard Hotel, after George had just stopped traffic by walking in unaccompanied. Prof. Laughlin also had particularly interesting discussions with author Edmund Morris (Roosevelt biography Theodore Rex), country-western star Naomi Judd and Nickelodeon founder Geraldine Laybourne, who was also an inductee that year.

Prof. Laughlin was also invited as guest to the 2000 Golden Plate awards at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. The highlight that year was a surprise performance Naomi's "Big Bang Boogie", a musical physics spoof, by her daughter Wynonna. The physicists in the audience were called down to the stage to "boogie" while Wynonna sang. The photo on the right shows Nobelists Leon Lederman, Bob Laughlin and Bill Phillips taking bows after their fine boogying performance. The bandanna, jeans and cowboy hats were part of the dress code for the party, which was a barbecue. Martha Stewart, who was sitting in the front row and laughing so hard that she could scarcely breathe, jumped up and demanded a photograph with the dancing physicists. That year Prof. Laughlin also meet author Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear), architect Maya Lin (Washington Vietnam Memorial) and anthropologist Don Johanssen (discoverer of the hominid Lucy). The new inductees that year included Nobelist Ahmed Zewail, recording artist Lauryn Hill and composer John Williams.