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The Alfred Nobel legacy: 2007 Nobel Prizes

Alfred NobelIn 1895, this will by Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Prizes. One page worth reading, with this core paragraph:

“The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical work by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.”

The Nobel Foundation has started to announce 2007 Laureates. So far:

– Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Mario R. Capecchi, Martin J. Evans and Oliver Smithies for producing specific genetic alterations in mice.

– Nobel Prize in Physics: Albert Fert and Peter Gruenberg for discovering the effect underlying data storage on most hard disks.

As we discussed yesterday, basic science is crucial for innovation and for economic growth, but it is often underappreciated. Scientists are not “nerds”, as sometimes they are portrayed in popular culture, but people with a deep curiosity and drive to solve a Big problem. Many of the speakers at the 2007 Aspen Health Forum had been inspired by the Sputnik and the Apollo missions to become scientists. Two previous Nobel Prize Laureates (Peter Agre, Michael Bishop), talked about their lives and careers trying to demystify what it takes to be a scientist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both were grateful to the taxpayers dollars that funded their research, and insisted we must do a better job at explaining the scientific process to society at large. Both were proud of having attended small liberal arts colleges, and havingSputnik evolved from there, fueled by their great curiosity and unpredictable, serendipitous paths, into launching new scientific and medical fields.  Bishop listed a number of times where he made decisions that were considered “career suicide” by mentors and colleagues, and mentioned “I was confused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspiring.

The Nobel Prizes, what a beautiful tradition. What a beautiful meme.

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