Nobel Prize Conversations season 4

Through their lives and work, failures and successes – get to know the individuals who have been awarded the Nobel Prize. ‘Nobel Prize Conversations’ is back with a new season featuring the 2021 Nobel Prize laureates. 

‘Nobel Prize Conversations’ is a podcast with a new episode every Thursday. This new season will be the fourth. The host for the podcast is Adam Smith, who has the happy task of interviewing the Nobel Prize laureates. 

Season 4 is produced by Filt Hinterland and Nobel Prize Outreach in cooperation with Fundación Ramón Areces.

Laureate origin stories: Adam Smith explores what factors make a Nobel Prize laureate

How do you make a Nobel Prize laureate? In this special bonus episode of Nobel Prize Conversations, we explore the origin stories of these remarkable individuals. This bonus episode features Adam Smith, who shares some of his insights after speaking to more than 150 laureates. He is interviewed by the producer of Nobel Prize Conversations, Karin Svensson.

Both nature and nurture play crucial parts in creating a Nobel Prize laureate. But there’s another, often-overlooked, factor that can shape their lives and careers: the element of chance. Or as Adam says, “These many, many, many pieces of luck, throughout life, come to make you what you are.”

Maria Ressa

”Real life is stranger than fiction right now”

Meet 2021 peace laureate Maria Ressa in an energetic and lively conversation where she speaks about our current world situation and why, to her, it is sometimes stranger than that portrayed on film.

She also lets us in on why she chose her career path: “I became a journalist because I knew information is power” and tells us how she funded Rappler, an independent website for investigative journalism in the Philippines, together with a group of Filipino colleagues and journalists.

Maria Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Abdulrazak Gurnah

”I don’t write about heroes, I write about small people”

“I don’t write about heroes, I write about small people.” Abdulrazak Gurnah’s books often touch on the fate of the refugee and effects of colonialism. In this episode he speaks about his interest in how people cope with traumas or problems in their lives – and are able to retrieve something from them.

Gurnah also speaks about what literature gives the writer and the reader: ”We are learning something. We are told something we didn’t know before.” He also offers insights into his writing: how he explores thoughtful silences and lifts the small struggles that play out in otherwise mundane lives and settings. Last but not least, he talks to us about moving to the UK from Zanzibar as a teenager, and how his home country Zanzibar went through a big change during the revolution in 1964.

Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2021 “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.

Guido Imbens

”It is very good at developing good work habits”

In an increasingly chaotic world, how can you learn to concentrate deeply on a single problem? Economic sciences laureate Guido Imbens found his powers of concentration while getting lost in chess games as a child. ”For four or five hours you would just shut out the rest of the world, you would be focused on one task.”

Imbens also talks about the beauty of chess, the pitfalls in talking publicly about uncertain data and the challenge of keeping an open mind in research. He also speaks about the morning he received the news about his prize in economic sciences in October 2021 and how his wife and children celebrated the award with him early in the morning.

Guido Imbens was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2021 for “methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.”

Hartmut Michel

”It was curiosity. I always wanted to find out how we worked”

“If somebody tells me ‘this is impossible’, I always think that it still might be possible – and try to find a way around.” Where would the world be without the scientists who look beyond the conventional wisdom and try to solve the unsolvable problems? Hartmut Michel speaks about his working class background, discovering his love of science – and travel – in a public library, and why he’s remained true to his native Germany.

Hartmut Michel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1988 “for the determination of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre.”

David Julius

”I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to do when I grew up”

Get to know 2021 medicine laureate David Julius – hear him speak about his childhood and how he loved puzzle solving. His father used to tell him that he was great at taking things apart but not so good at putting them back together.

In the episode, Julius talks about his journey from anxious pupil to confident researcher, the importance of diversity in science, and how his research is connected to how different species experience the world in different ways.

David Julius was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021 for discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

Benjamin List

”There are millions of new things we can discover”

Meet 2021 chemistry laureate Benjamin List in an insightful conversation where he shares his advice to “try to follow your enthusiasm and do what you are really passionate about and what you really love to do.” As a child, Benjamin List thought chemists held the keys to the secrets of the universe. Luckily, by the time he learned this wasn’t so, he was already hooked on doing chemistry experiments he found in books. Even today, he still feels passion for the field, and tries to surround himself with passionate researchers.

List also tells us about a bet he made (and won!) with his co-laureate David MacMillan and lets us know if he’s received his winnings yet. We also discover more about his life – including how yoga has influenced his way of living and how his coffee-making skills have turned him into his family’s barista.

Benjamin List was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with David MacMillan, for work in developing asymmetric organocatalysis, a tool for building new molecules in cleaner and more efficient ways.

David Card

”I spent all my time with my dad, learnt how to take things apart”

Hear economist David Card speak about his experience of growing up at a farm. In this conversation, Card tells us about how his upbringing has shaped his life and how his dad taught him to drive tractors at the age of 10.

Card was awarded the 2021 prize in economic sciences for his empirical contributions to labour economics. Besides his work on labour, Card has also done extensive research on educational systems. Here he tells us about the positive progress of more gender balanced admission at universities but highlights the increasing problem with underrepresented minorities in economic sciences.

Card also tells us about how he spends the very little time off he has wood working. He describes it as “very lone work. It’s you and the wood.” We also get to hear about another Nobel Prize laureate that he finds fascinating and that he would have loved to converse with, 1998 literature laureate Jose Saramago.

Giorgio Parisi

”If children are not curious they will not be able to work”

Some people manage to retain the relentless curiosity of a child into adulthood, keeping them on a constant quest of exploration. Meet Giorgio Parisi, who tells us about his journey of curiosity, which started by learning to read numbers at the age of three: “I was reading the number of the bus when the bus was arriving.” At an early age, he also started to read the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, as his parents’ large library encouraged reading.

Giorgio Parisi describes his life journey and how he ultimately decided to dedicate his life to physics as that topic made more sense to him than mathematics. In 2021 he was awarded the physics prize “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.” He shared the prize with Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann.

Joshua Angrist

”I never stop thinking about my work”

Meet economist Joshua Angrist who believes that to be a good labour economist, you should have had some real life job experience.

In conversation with our podcast host Adam Smith, Angrist tells us about his disinterest in school and how as a teenager he was more interested in earning money and maintaining his car. His later surprising and instant connection with economics led him to dedicate his life to his research: “I never stop thinking about my work.”

Joshua Angrist was awarded the 2021 prize in economic sciences and speaks about how the award has affected his life; “It was wonderful to win the Nobel Prize but I am the same guy I was on October 10th.”

Ardem Patapoutian

”The best thing was to come up with the experiment itself”

2021 medicine laureate Ardem Patapoutian tells us about his shock and happiness after receiving the Nobel Prize, or as he puts it: “All of us in science know that the Nobel Prize is a big deal but I really didn’t anticipate it to be this big of a deal.” 

Patapoutian also shares his life story immigrating to the US from war-wrecked Lebanon as a young boy. He speaks about his beautiful home country and the things he misses most about it and the new life in the US and his university experience at UCLA. Patapoutian tells us that he quickly fell in love with the idea of doing science: “The best thing was not to see if the experiment worked, the best thing was to come up with the experiment itself.” 

He also shares a strong and valuable message: “We all take things for granted, whether it is our jobs, our schools, our parents, our family and the best thing to not take anything for granted is to let go of it a little and then you realise how much something means to you.”  

Ardem Patapoutian was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021 for discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

David MacMillan

”Organic chemistry found me as much as I found it”

In this first episode, meet football fan and chemist David MacMillan. Together with podcast host Adam Smith, he speaks about the importance of storytelling and his strong belief that “science is supposed to be about having fun, it is not supposed to be about intimidating people.”

MacMillan shares his journey from a family where no one had gone to university to becoming a Nobel Prize laureate. He was awarded the chemistry prize in 2021 for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis. We also hear about how his upbringing in Scotland shaped him as a scientist and why his parents insisted that he went to university.

David MacMillan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 for his work on asymmetric organocatalysis.

Find Nobel Prize Conversations season 1-2
Find Nobel Prize Conversations season 3

First published April 2022

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Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.