Not only is David Wineland a great scientist, as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recently confirmed, he is also an exceptional human being.

I had the privilege of working for Dave as a PhD student from 1997 to 2001, developing one of the first quantum computers. Our team used individual trapped ions: charged atoms suspended in vacuum by electric fields. Since the early 1970s, Dave had developed a huge range of techniques for trapping ions and controlling their quantum behavior. Our task was to go from controlling a single ion to controlling two, three, or four.

The team consisted of NIST staff member Christopher Monroe (now a professor at the University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute and a world leader in his own right), four postdoctoral researchers, a student nearing PhD completion, and me—the junior student. A standard university lab is lucky to have one or two postdoctoral researchers managing a herd of PhD students. Here the postdocs were the backbone of the team.

Dave’s quiet, understated, but ever-present guidance was the key that helped me, as a fumbling junior student, find my way among such a crowd of experts. Dave valued everyone, and we all responded to his attitude by giving our best to the team. Of course, we wanted to advance in our careers, but we also wanted to help each other the way Dave helped each of us. His concern for all was reflected in the patience that the senior researchers showed with me.

My experience is just one example of Dave’s exceptional conduct toward his colleagues. Through vicissitudes of competition or technical obstacles to research, Dave has good words for everyone, from junior members of his team to internationally recognized scientists. He is the first to recognize the contributions of others and often the last to point out his own. Many members of the quantum physics community have even feared that his modesty has cost him some appreciation, so this long-deserved Nobel Prize is all the sweeter.

One can hardly overstate Dave’s influence on the atomic and quantum physics communities over the past five decades. As with Norman Ramsey, his own PhD adviser a generation earlier, it sometimes seems like half of the field’s best researchers have worked with Dave, and the best young physicists in the field still flock to his lab.

Dave’s team continues to grow in size and quality and is outstripped only by his own creativity and dedication. Any day now, I fully expect him to astonish me and the rest of his colleagues with yet another new and unlikely idea that somehow turns out beautifully. I hope many more junior PhD students have the same good fortune that I did, the day I came to work for Dave.