Nobel Laureates have come to scientific research through different routes, whether it was the result of a childhood ambition or a late career change. However, laureates speaking at Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative events all share a conviction that science is their calling.
The Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative has visited countries on four continents in partnership with AstraZeneca, and one country we keep returning to is Brazil. Since 2014, four laureates have met students in Brasília, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Their passion is clear when they are speaking to the next generation of scientists who are emerging in Brazilian universities and research centres.
Fraser Stoddart spoke about the opportunity for creativity that chemistry has given him. He likens his experience as a scientist to that of a sculptor or a novelist – research allows him to express himself. Like artists, scientists create something new, and in his case his creation of molecular machines led to the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Aaron Ciechanover conveyed the same sense of identity that science has brought him. He trained as a surgeon, but realised that this career couldn’t sustain him for decades. He therefore took the gamble of returning to graduate school to study biomedical science. This gamble led to the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and to him finding his passion.
Such conviction helps carry laureates through the difficult times they inevitably face when doing ground-breaking experiments. Bruce Beutler didn’t even give up when his institute pulled his funding. He was convinced it was possible to solve an important problem and so wasn’t deterred by advice that he should give up. His perseverance led to profound advances in our understanding of the innate immune system, and the discovery of receptors that are central to autoimmune diseases such as lupus. As a result, he was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Likewise, Martin Chalfie experienced early failures in his journey towards the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and he believes that failure is important. His advice is to discuss the failure with other people, asking questions, and to try the experiments in different ways. His ability to overcome adversity allowed him to develop green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a tool for studying biological processes in cells.