Nobel laureate doubles as home do-it-yourselfer
By David Montero, Rocky Mountain News
October 5, 2005
The technology that John Hall developed to help win the Nobel Prize in
physics is among the most exacting and precise known to science.
So, you'd think when his daughter asked him to help make a storage
unit for their house last summer, an array of measuring tools would
have arrived with him.
"We called it extreme sawing or extreme home renovation," his
daughter, Carey Hall, said. "We cut wood on our lap without really
measuring anything. Here's a guy who gets his Nobel Prize for
accuracy, and we're sitting there eyeballing it saying, 'Yeah, that
looks about right.' "
But she wasn't surprised by her 71-year-old father's achievement, for
which he will get $325,000 - an amount that boggled the minds of her
students at Moore Middle School in Arvada. She said her class was
supposed to be learning about Andrew Jackson on Tuesday, but upon
hearing the news about 5 a.m. from her mother, she realized her lesson
plan might need some altering.
The students, it turned out, had a lot of questions about the Nobel
"The kids were quite fascinated by the money part," Hall, 43, said.
"They asked things like, 'Are you going to not have to work anymore
since your dad won all this money?' "
The Halls were going to celebrate by going out to dinner - although
the wife said the real celebration will happen when they go to
winterize their home in Marble. That's a home, by the way, where Hall
mastered plumbing by doing the entire place by himself.
"After that, I thought it would be good to advertise his services -
Prestige Ph.D. Plumbing," Lindy Hall said.
She said this having just gotten out of the shower while her husband
was preparing for his news conference Tuesday afternoon at the
University of Colorado. She wasn't going to attend but said they would
gather later at a "spontaneous party."
The two have been married for 47 years, and the special education
teacher still claims to understand very little about the science he
studies, teaches and discusses.
What she does understand is that he's more than the sum of GPS and
laser technology knowledge.
The 68-year-old teacher said they recently completed a 4,500-mile
journey looking at buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. They both
share a love of Scott Joplin's ragtime music and, in fact, the Nobel
Prize winner is quite adept on both the piano and the harpsichord.
She also said he is a singer, having sung in a barbershop quartet in
John Hall said he also remembered one of his first jobs helping to
"In my last year of high school, I fixed TVs for a Denver company that
was kind of instructive for me," he said dryly. "But it was not a
career I would've chosen."
Instead, he went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he
met Lindy. While students there, they met over muffins during Tuesday
and Thursday study sessions. But she noticed him long before that
while working as a stagehand in the school's stage presentations.
"All campus musicals needed him to help hang itchy and scratchy pieces
of fiberglass, and he needed an assistant to help secure it to the
ceiling," she said. "And so our first dates were mostly working on
sets. It was a real test of commitment."
They were both poor at the time they started on their marital journey
and, by 1960, she was pregnant with their first child Thomas. It was
the same time he got a draft notice, she said. He got a deferment,
however, for being a student and father.
Eventually, they had two more children - none of whom have followed
him into the field of physics. Thomas, who discovered his father had
won the Nobel Prize while logging onto Yahoo! early Tuesday morning,
is a field systems engineer.
The youngest is 41 and works as a high-end auto tech specialist.
Margaret Hall, his daughter-in-law who lives in Boston, said she loves
that the Hall legacy now includes a Nobel Prize winner. But she said
her young children - his grandchildren - don't understand any of it.
"To them, he's just 'Pump,' " Margaret Hall said, referring to the
nickname bestowed upon him through a combination of love and
mispronunciation. "He gets on the floor with them and plays with them
and asks them silly questions. That's all that matters to them."
Meet Colorado's newest Nobel Laureate John Hall
• Age: 71
• Hometown: Denver. South High School Class of '52
• Early job: TV repairman senior year in high school
• Wife: Lindy Hall, for 47 years
• Children: Thomas, 45; Carey, 43; Jonathan, 41; grandchildren ages 7,
• Career: Laser researcher for the National Institute of Standards and
Technology in Boulder.
• Recent position: Lecturer, research associate at CU JILA.
• Education: Bachelor's degree from Carnegie Mellon in physics in 1956
and doctorate in 1961.
• Awards: Distinguished Merit Award from Carnegie Mellon in 1985;
Nobel Prize in 2005.
• Hobbies: Traveling, playing ragtime piano and harpsichord, studying
Frank Lloyd Wright's work.
• Nicknames: "Pump" and Jan.