Published 10 July 2015 by Akshat Rathi

Five questions to a Nobel Laureate: William Phillips


How much sleep do you need and does it affect your work?

On average, I go to sleep between 12.30am and 1.30am. Then I get up around 7.30am. I’m probably not efficient when I’m tired, like everyone else.

Are you addicted to something? Science cannot be the answer

I don’t believe I’m addicted to any chemical. I drink a little but no coffee. Mostly I get caffeine from diet colas, but I don’t particularly like them.

What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

We have a joke in my family. It’s not considered a holiday if it involves physics or family. And under that definition, we have not had a holiday since 1972. According to a more normal definition, a holiday is at a place which has a lot of stimulating features, either artistically, naturally, intellectually, or in the company of good friends. On that scale, this conference is just like a holiday.

Where do your best ideas come from?

The past, that is I had all my good ideas when I was young. Now the best ideas are not my ideas but those of the young people I work with.

How does creativity play a role in science?

The only way science advances is through creativity, if you define creativity as doing something new. What things lead to creativity? That’s different for different people, but for me I find it in the company of smart people. It comes from throwing ideas around, discussing and beating them out. I like a good fight, scientifically speaking, because it is when we disagree with something that we are likely to learn something new.

Akshat Rathi

Akshat Rathi is a reporter for Quartz ( in London. He has previously worked at The Economist and The Conversation. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian and The Hindu. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford University and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.