Nobel Prize Conversations

Through their lives and work, failures and successes – get to know the individuals who have been awarded the Nobel Prize. The host for this podcast is Adam Smith, who has the happy task of interviewing our Nobel Laureates.
Nobel Prize Conversations is a podcast with a new episode every other Thursday.

Sit in on our conversations as we delve into how these personalities found their fields of interest – often by coincidence – how they view collaboration, curiosity and failure, and what keeps them going. The laureates share what they have learned from their career and what they like to do outside of their work – from music to fly-fishing. We let the discussions flow freely, resulting in richly varied stories on topics ranging from poverty prevention to the science of black holes and the importance of being a role model.

Season 2 of Nobel Prize Conversations is produced with the support of our Nobel International Partners: 3M, ABB, Ericsson and Scania.

Robert B. Wilson

“I guess I was halfway content with the idea that somehow I’d become an economist”

Laureate in Economic Sciences Robert B. Wilson didn’t really see himself as an economist until he reached the age of 50. Hear Wilson speak about his journey to becoming an economist. In this ‘Nobel Prize Conversations’ episode, Wilson also speaks about how he received the news about his Prize in Economic Sciences and the culture shock he experienced when he started to study at Harvard University.

Robert B. Wilson was awarded the 2004 Prize in Economic Sciences “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats.”

Frank Wilczek

“My aspiration really was to be like my role models, like Einstein”

What is your aspiration in life? In this episode, Physics Laureate Frank Wilczek tells us about his hope to make a mark on the world. Wilzcek recently released a new book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality, where readers can follow him on a “simple yet profound exploration of reality”. Here, Wilzcek discusses the book as well as his life as a scientist.

Frank Wilczek was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction.”

Donna Strickland

“I knew I belonged in school and wanted to get a PhD. Before I even knew what it was, I knew I belonged”

From very early on, Physics Laureate Donna Strickland knew she wanted to get a PhD. She didn’t know what it was but if it was the ultimate in education she was going to get it. Here you get the chance to meet Donna Strickland. Besides her childhood dream of a PhD, topics such as dealing with failure, being a woman in science and being awarded the Nobel Prize are up for discussion.

Donna Strickland was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for the “method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.”

Robert Lefkowitz

“Failure is an inevitable part of doing science. Most of what we do fails”

Hear 2012 Chemistry Laureate Robert Lefkowitz speak about failure and how to best deal with it. Together with Adam Smith, Lefkowitz shares his experience of being a top student that all of sudden needed to deal with failure. In addition, they speak about the importance of mentoring and how crucial collaboration is for scientific development.

Robert Lefkowitz was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors.”

Roger Penrose

“I am very bad at giving up”

Hear 2020 Physics Laureate Roger Penrose speak about ideas, creativity and what is so special about blackboards. Penrose also shares some stories from his childhood and how he eventually ended up in the field of physics.

Roger Penrose was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.”

Peter Doherty

“This is the first time we have had a completely novel virus infection and we are trying to vaccinate our way out of it”

In this conversation, Medicine Laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty speaks about how we should learn from the current corona pandemic to be better prepared for and preferably prevent future pandemics.

Peter Doherty was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research on how the immune system recognises virus-ridden cells.

Paul Nurse

”When a politician gets up and says that we are following the science, the question needs to be what science? Because there are more than one scientific conclusion out there”

What is life? This is a question that has puzzled scientists for centuries, one of the most famous being Erwin Schrödinger. In this episode, we meet 2001 Medicine Laureate Paul Nurse and hear his thoughts on the matter.

Paul Nurse was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001 for discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle.

Andrea Ghez

“We should always explore things we are a little afraid of”

Get to know astrophysicist Andrea Ghez in this podcast episode. Here she compares the centre of the galaxy to a city’s crowded downtown area. Her fascination for space is mirrored in her enthusiasm in speaking about science. As well as the centre of the galaxy, we discover her favourite star and the difference a good role model can make. We also find out what Ghez’s biggest fear was growing up and how she has overcome it.

Andrea Ghez was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”

Emmanuelle Charpentier

“My stability is my science”

In this episode we hear chemistry laureate Emmanuelle Charpentier speaks about the drive you need as a researcher and what impact awards can have on a career. Her road to the Nobel Prize was a winding journey, and she recalls how science was her stability. She speaks about being ”a typical French student of the 90s” and what it means to be a perfectionist.

Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering key aspects of a naturally-occuring defence mechanism in bacteria, called CRISPR/Cas9, and developing it into one of gene technology’s sharpest tools.

Kip Thorne

”I immediately fell in love with the idea of the sun and the planet and what is really out there – that is what got me hooked”

In the first episode of ’Nobel Prize Conversations’ season 2 we meet 2017 Physics Laureate Kip Thorne. We speak to Thorne about Albert Einstein’s importance in the field of science, if time travelling is possible, and his experience of contributing to the movie ’Interstellar’.

Thorne tells us about his childhood dream of becoming a snow plow operator and how his mother ultimately inspired him to become a physicist.

Even though he turned 80 years old earlier this year, Thorne is more active than ever. He is very passionate about inspiring the younger generation and has been a mentor to over 50 PhD students.

Kip Thorne was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”

Season 1

Christopher Pissarides

Meet Christopher Pissarides, a humble London School of Economics professor who finished his PhD in two years and was awarded the 2010 Prize in Economic Sciences.

He and his co-laureates Peter Diamond and Dale Mortensen were awarded the prize for finding ways to incorporate real-world frictions into the mathematical models that describe market behaviour. Their Diamond-Mortensen-Pissarides (DMP) model is one of the most widely-used analytical tools for labour markets. Besides discussing labour markets, we speak about educational systems, how life has been affected by covid-19 and how Pissarides experienced moving from Cyprus to the UK.

This episode concludes Nobel Prize Conversations season 1. We hope you have enjoyed this season and look forward to welcome you back soon for season 2.

Esther Duflo

Esther Duflo’s research improves our ability to fight global poverty. In just two decades, co-laureates Duflo, Banerjee and Kremer have transformed development economics with their innovative experiment-based approach, which is now a flourishing field of research. Thanks to their work we have clearer perspectives on the core problems within areas such as education and health.

In this episode Adam Smith speaks to Esther Duflo about how her drive to understand and fight poverty began at an early age. They discuss the world in coronavirus times, and the fears and prejudices connected to migration. Duflo also shares her tips for managers and her best collaboration techniques.

Esther Duflo received the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2019 together with Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.

Daniel Kahneman

How does it feel to be one of the most famous behavioural psychologists of our time? Daniel Kahneman says that it is perfectly fine to be famous as long as you don’t let it go to your head. From an early age, Kahneman was interested in people – he took after his mother who, both with irony and objectivity, was fascinated by the people in her surroundings. When he was just ten years old he wrote his first essay on the psychology of religion.

In this digital conversation podcast Daniel Kahneman talks about eureka moments, scientific collaborations, stereotypes and racial discrimination, and also advice: “In general I try to give as little advice as possible.”

Daniel Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel “for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty”.

Oliver Hart

Imagine you’re married, but you never discussed children with your partner beforehand. Then imagine your partner doesn’t want children, but you do. Your wedding day contract made no mention of kids, and legally everything is fine – but you’re still disappointed. Contracts are everywhere in society, and the example of children and marriage is just one example that shows that many contracts are – as Oliver Hart would say – incomplete.

In this conversation Hart explores the importance of words and language for a researcher, how being good at economics is about learning to THINK like an economist and how his parents influenced him to think that anyone who’s not left-wing is an idiot.

In 2016 Oliver Hart was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, together with the Finnish economist Bengt Holmström, for his contribution to contract theory.

Christopher Sims

How important is the money in your pocket? Try buying a sandwich with an IOU and a promise to come back and pay, and you’ll soon understand. Christopher Sims’ research explores topics from the meaning of money to his prize-awarded work on cause and effect in the macroeconomy. In this conversation he touches on sandwich shops, terrific teachers and a horse with a name that’s almost impossible to pronounce.

In 2011, Christopher Sims and fellow economist Thomas Sargent were awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences for developing methods that help define ‘what caused what’ in economics.

Alvin Roth

Should you be able to buy a kidney? Economic Sciences Laureate Alvin Roth would call that, and other taboo exchanges, repugnant transactions. Roth pioneered ways of describing outlier markets where prices don’t work, explaining why you can’t buy a job at Google, acceptance at Yale – or a human organ.

In 2012, Alvin Roth was awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences for his work in matching markets.

Roger Myerson

Belonging to a community is wonderful, but for Economic Sciences laureate Roger Myerson sharing outside your community is more important. By crossing maths with history and politics, Myerson arrived at new insights about economics, found his love for game theory and moved onwards into new ways to describe situations where markets don’t work properly

Roger Myerson was awarded the 2007 Prize in Economic Sciences, shared with Leonid Hurwicz and Eric Maskin, for mechanism design theory.

Paul Romer

Protecting the ship, building relationships and organising surprise weddings – in this week’s episode, Economic Sciences laureate Paul Romer discusses everything from the special moment he experienced just hours before collecting his prize to the importance of unity, purpose and inclusion.

Romer shared the 2018 Prize in Economic Sciences with William D. Nordhaus for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis.

Angus Deaton

Angus Deaton dreamed of being a pianist, a rugby player or a mathematician – but he just wasn’t good enough. After these setbacks, however, he discovered economics, and in 2015 he was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.

Listen to a conversation about some wild ideas, beautiful places and the role trout fishing can play in problem-solving.

Richard Thaler

Nudges, sludges and the connection between stubbornness and success – in this first episode of Nobel Prize Conversations, host Adam Smith interviews Economic Sciences laureate Richard Thaler. His work has helped us to understand how people make choices in the real world and has also given us tools to nudge people towards better decisions.


First published January 2020