The Nobel-est of Them All

On this trip, we have been asked to identify a cultural artifact that represents us. I genuinely struggled until walking through the doors of the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. This item on our itinerary did not particularly stick out to me, and I did not come in with very much knowledge on the awards that are given. However, this ended up being one of my absolute favorite places. It is especially important in Sweden as the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, and Literature as well as an award in Economics are only given out here.

There really is not much to the museum, but at the back, they have a special photography exhibition. The photographer took on the task of getting portraits of some of the Nobel laureates. He decided to make it interesting though. Without giving the scientists any prior warning, he gave them a giant piece of poster paper and asked them to illustrate what exactly they won their Nobel Prize for. Then, he took their pictures with their posters against a simple white backdrop. He gave them freedom to pose how they wished and allowed their personalities to come alive in the photographs. Now, these pictures are posted around the room with short comments on the photographer’s experience of working with each of these individuals. I loved how transparent and quirky it was. 

For the discoverer of water channels, he wrote, “This is a sportsman in sneakers. He sketches a beautiful picture of his discovery, the aquaporin channels in the cell membrane. During the shoot, he gives me a demonstration of some rather cool ski moves – while holding the sketch with his Nobel discovery!”

For the discoverer of telomeres and telomerases, he wrote, “The sketch comes out detailed, colourful, and humourous. There are emoticons and sound effects… So, this is the kind of professor I would have liked to have had.”

What really blew my mind was how recent all of these highlighted discoveries have been. Many of these awards were given in the 2000’s, and the concepts are now within the pages of my biology, chemistry, and physics textbooks. These fascinating individuals are the pilgrims, blazing the way of scientific exploration. The knowledge I am gaining is so fresh which only means that my field will continue to expand for as long as I live. It is a necessity for me to be a lifelong student, and this exhibit made this truth so glaringly apparent to me. I am a scientist and that identity has connected me to this city through the Nobel Prize Museum.

We had a great guide who gave us background on the museum, especially regarding the nomination and awarding process. Afterwards, I talked with her a bit. She has been working for the museum for many years and has a lot of inside knowledge. She said that most people do not know that laureates in the sciences are nominated for an average of 10 consecutive years before they ever win. They are also generally older and fall into the 50+ age category. I know there is some statistic floating around about the likelihood of a high school football player making it to the NFL (it’s less than 1%). I would be interested to hear what the likelihood of a scientist becoming a Nobel Prize laureate is, but I would guess that it is even more rare. A Nobel Prize is certainly only achieved with a high level of commitment. That is what it takes to go down in history as the Francis Crick’s and Linus Pauling’s of the world.


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