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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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