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Opening Address

Speech by Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, 10 December 2014.

Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin delivering the opening address during the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Esteemed Nobel Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Nobel Foundation, it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to this year's Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, which is held to honour the Laureates for their outstanding contributions to science and literature. In particular, I would like to wish the Nobel Laureates and their families welcome to this ceremony.

Earlier today, in Oslo, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize for their fight for children's rights. This is a prize for something very fundamental: the right to education, and a safe childhood regardless of religion, gender or ethnicity. Not least is it important to provide education for girls. If we shall be able to tackle the challenges humanity faces, education cannot be a privilege for an exclusive group. It's fundamental for development and peaceful co-existence between nations and people. Without access to education, none of the Nobel Laureates we celebrate today, and who are present on this podium, would have been able to accomplish their fantastic achievements.

Alfred Nobel's vision for his prizes was that those who have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind should be awarded. This year's Nobel Prizes have been awarded for achievements that already have benefited, or most likely will benefit, mankind in profound ways.

We are gathered here to celebrate discoveries that give us bright white light using very little energy, that enable us to explore the tiniest details of cells, that explain some of the complexity of the brain with the neurons that are activated when we navigate in our surroundings, and literature that explores the art of memory and the destinies of human beings trying to find their way in our surroundings, and finally an important analysis of how to structure markets to the benefit of society.

The discoveries that today are being awarded Nobel Prizes are the result of inspired and hard work. In some cases, established truths had to be challenged; in other cases sceptical environments had to be overcome. The achievements of the Laureates illustrate that for scientific breakthroughs to happen, scientists need freedom and to be able to work with a long-term perspective. Needless to say, they also require long-term funding, which allows them to take on ambitious projects. If scientists did not dare to take on difficult tasks without guarantee of success, scientific breakthroughs would be scarce.

Some people claim that in order to make a scientific breakthrough you have to be lucky. Whereas an element of luck may be involved, I do not think this is enough. Most successful scientists will probably agree that they have benefited from some luck, but many have also attested that there is a clear pattern: the harder they work, the more luck they seem to have.

Alfred Nobel lived in the latter part of the 19th century, an era that had many similarities – some of them quite scary – to ours. It was a time of major scientific advances, improved communications, rapidly increased trade and growing international enterprises; he was himself intimately involved in all four of these areas of development. But it was also an era, just like ours, of strong social and environmental challenges, with anti-intellectual and xenophobic tendencies and with a military build-up coupled with ruthless nationalistic actions and obvious threats to peace.

In times like these, Nobel's vision is more important than ever. The importance of education and research cannot be underestimated. We need inspiring stories and individuals that stimulate us to learn more and to act. In order to support and promote the vision of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Foundation has initiated various outreach activities, including museums in Stockholm and Oslo where the work of the now 889 Nobel Laureates are on display, and through our digital channels their stories are shared with people all around the globe. Moreover, interdisciplinary meetings have been organised in Sweden for the past three years in order to deepen the dialogue between the scientific community and the rest of society. During these events a wider audience is given a chance to interact with scientists, many of whom are Nobel Laureates, and engage in discussions on topics that concern us all. The themes so far have been the genetic revolution, energy and ageing. The plan is to arrange similar events also outside Sweden in the future.

In Stockholm, we look forward to establishing a new home for the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Center will be a place with broad public activities, scientific meetings and events. This new platform will give us the unique opportunity to address major issues – issues that are crucial to our world and our future, issues that affect us all as individuals, in our lives and everyday existence.

Dear Nobel Laureates: you are role models and authorities. We hope that you will continue your important work, and also in the future make important scientific discoveries and write excellent books. However, there is more. They say "Noblesse oblige". I think you will also find that "Nobel obliges". You will find that the Nobel Prizes you have been awarded will open doors for you. People will ask for your advice and will listen to your opinions. You will be able to exert influence. You will have the opportunity to explain to the general public the importance of science as a way of finding solutions to important problems, and you will be able to promote the recruitment of young talents to science by sharing your own experiences with them. Participation in such activities, of course completely voluntary, would be well in line with the vision Alfred Nobel expressed in his will, that the prize he installed should promote activities "for the benefit of mankind".

Thank you!

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2014
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