A glimpse into Nobel Week

Ever thought about what Nobel Week is like for a Nobel Prize laureate? Now you can find out.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to attend Nobel Week – an event where Nobel Prize laureates come from all over the world to Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway.

For many scientists, this is the recognition of a dream where they will have the opportunity to engage the public in their prize-awarded work before the week culminates in the Nobel Prize ceremony and banquet on 10 December – the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Keep reading for a peek inside what this week is really like.

Nobel Week is not just a time for Nobel Prize laureates to celebrate but also to connect with their co-laureates.

For 2022 chemistry laureate Barry Sharpless, he learned that 2020 physics laureate Andrea Ghez had been in his class while Ghez was studying for her undergraduate degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US.

“Oh, is that true? I hope I didn’t hurt you too much,” Sharpless said to his former student. Sharpless taught at MIT for 17 years before joining Scripps Research Institute in 1990. 

“Oh no, not at all,” Ghez said with a laugh.

Andrea Ghez and K. Barry Sharpless
Physics laureate Andrea Ghez and double chemistry laureate K. Barry Sharpless met at the Nobel Prize laureates’ Get together at the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm on 6 December 2022. Ghez reminded Sharpless that he used to be her professor at MIT. © Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Clément Morin

Most laureates start their Nobel Week journey with a get-together which kicks off a stay that can include everything from white tie fittings to various embassy receptions.

At the get-together laureates are asked to donate items to the Nobel Prize Museum. These items range from jars of peanut butter (Carolyn Bertozzi, chemistry 2022) to an undergraduate test (Douglas Diamond, economic sciences 2022). Laureates are also asked to sign the museum’s restaurant chairs, a tradition which started on the Nobel Prize’s 100-year anniversary in 2001.

Beyond the museum, laureates go to a number of events across the city. 2021 chemistry laureate David MacMillan got the opportunity to visit the Svenska Fotbollförbundet organisation where he and his family met with Swedish national team manager Janne Anderson and women’s national team manager Peter Gerhardsson.

MacMillan’s connection with Swedish football went back to 2012 when he watched a game between England and Sweden. Ten years later, MacMillan would include the video of a goal by Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic from that game in his Nobel Prize lecture.

“In another life, [David] might have wanted to be a footballer,” Ji-In Kim MacMillan, David’s wife, said. “But chemistry has brought him joy through his entire life.”

David MacMillan standing with Sweden national football team manager Janne Andersson.
David MacMillan was presented with a football jersey signed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic during his visit to Svenska Fotbollförbundet office. During the visit, he let Sweden national football team manager Janne Andersson hold his Nobel Prize medal. © Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Anna Svanberg

For all Nobel Prize laureates, visiting the Nobel Foundation headquarters and its laureates’ room is a key part of their Nobel Week experience. During their visits, laureates flip through a guest book featuring names of previous Nobel Prize laureates. The earliest signature in the guest book dates to the early 1950s. This is often an emotional experience.

 “This is actually very hard to digest,” 2021 medicine laureate Ardem Patapoutian said during his 7 December visit to the Nobel Foundation. “We all grew up in science thinking about this ‘club’ as a club we’ll never ever be part of.”

“This book is quite cool, but you are also quite cool,” Nobel Foundation Executive Director Vidar Helgesen said to Patapoutian after Patapoutian remarked that the guestbook was one of the coolest things he had seen.

Other laureates use the opportunity to pause over the names of those they knew.

“She was my student, and she got the [prize] before me,” 2021 economic sciences laureate Joshua Angrist said about 2019 economic sciences laureate Esther Duflo.

2021 chemistry laureate Benjamin List took time to take a picture of his aunt’s signature – 1995 medicine laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard – while 2020 chemistry laureate Jennifer Doudna had her husband take photos with her pointing to the signature of her postdoctoral advisor, 2009 medicine laureate Jack Szostak.

Some laureates found themselves overwhelmed when they flipped through the book.

“My goodness, I am just a small boy from the countryside,” 2020 physics laureate ​​Reinhard Genzel said when Helgeson presented him with the guest book.

However, Genzel was not contemplative for long. His wife, Orsolya Genzel-Boroviczeny, teased him for having neat handwriting.

Ardem Patapoutian sitting in a chair taking a photo of a guest book.jpg

Ardem Patapoutian

© Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Dan Lepp

Jennifer Doudna points to a signature in the Nobel Foundation guest book.

Jennifer Doudna

© Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Dan Lepp

Reinhard Genzel

© Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Dan Lepp

“You’re not a real doctor,” Genzel-Boroviczeny, who is a neonatologist, said. “You can read your signature.”

Another Nobel Week tradition for laureates is visiting local schools and giving presentations about their work. 2022 literature laureate Annie Ernaux continued the tradition of Nobel Prize laureates visiting students in Rinkeby, Stockholm – a suburb in Stockholm.

Annie Ernaux looking at a drawing of herself.
Annie Ernaux looking at a drawing by a student during her visit to Rinkeby School. © Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Clément Morin

During her visit, students performed stories and presented drawings of Ernaux. Students told stories about their parents’ journey to Sweden in Swedish, French and English. The students also presented the story of the Nobel Prize and honoured Ernaux’s works.

Many of the students from Rinkeby are immigrants or have parents who immigrated to Sweden. The laureate visit to Rinkeby is a celebration of multiculturalism.

“You speak about yourself just like I do, and your parents are very similar to mine in a certain way,” Ernaux said in French. “In France, I live in a new town, built 50 years ago. There, there are schools with children from over 40 countries, just like here.”

Ernaux found herself moved to tears by the experience. “This is the most touching and moving moment that I got to experience here in Stockholm, as a [Nobel Prize] laureate,” Ernaux said.

During Nobel Week, laureates also find that they must contend with something they didn’t expect – crowds of fans of all ages. When 2022 medicine laureate Svante Pääbo visited his old school he was greeted with cheers from the students who chanted his name.

“Does someone have a pen? I want an autograph from a Nobel Prize winner!” Someone yelled.

“I don’t even have paper!” Another called back.

A child taking a selfie of him and Svante Pääbo.
Svante Pääbo takes a selfie with a student during his visit to Bagarmossen. © Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Clement Morin

These school visits and lectures also include the Nobel Prize lectures, where laureates present their research in front of audiences of students, locals and members of the scientific community. It is not uncommon to see queues of many people lining up to hear laureates speak about their groundbreaking discoveries.

Festivities also crossed over to Oslo where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. As stipulated in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine and literature are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

Representatives from the three 2022 peace prize recipients arrived at the Nobel Peace Center 9 December where members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee greeted them.

In 2022 representatives for imprisoned laureate Ales Bialiatski and from the organisations Center for Civil Liberties and Memorial gave their lectures during an early afternoon ceremony on 10 December.

“People’s lives cannot be a ‘political compromise.’ Fighting for peace does not mean yielding to pressure of the aggressor, it means protecting people from its cruelty,” the head of Ukrainian organisation Center for Civil Liberties Oleksandra Matviichuk said.

In Stockholm the week’s highlight is the Nobel Prize award ceremony and banquet where laureates receive their diplomas and medals.

Around 1,300 people attend the banquet, where Nobel Prize laureates are guests of honour and sit with the Swedish royal family. Every year, the banquet differs in both décor and menus.

An aerial view of the Nobel Prize banquet 2022
Nobel Prize banquet 2022 © Nobel Prize Outreach. Photo: Clément Morin

After the banquet, laureates danced or attended an afterparty. In the following days, the 2022 laureates visited the Nobel Foundation to pick up their medals and diplomas. The week ends when all laureates reunite at the Nobel Prize Museum for a final reception.

Once all the laureates have departed Stockholm and Oslo with their memories and medals, then the work for the next Nobel Week begins again.

Learn about the Nobel Prize award ceremonies and Nobel Week

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MLA style: A glimpse into Nobel Week. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Tue. 21 May 2024. <https://www.nobelprize.org/ceremonies/a-glimpse-into-nobel-week/>

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