Arthur Harden’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1929
Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My first duty, and it is a most congenial one, is to express on behalf of Professor von Euler, whose name is as well known throughout the Scientific World as here in Stockholm – his adopted home – and myself, between whom the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has this year been divided, our sincere gratitude to the Nobel Committee and the Swedish Academy of Sciences for the great honour which has been conferred upon us, and through us upon the subject of Biochemistry, that branch of Chemistry upon which we have both been chiefly engaged. The Nobel awards have always been made with such care and impartiality as to render them the most noteworthy of all scientific distinctions, a distinction not confined to the individuals to whom the Prizes are awarded but shared by the special branch of Science they represent. I do not hesitate to say that biochemists of all nations felt a thrill of pleasure and satisfaction when this year’s Nobel award was published. Biochemistry, one of the youngest of the Sciences, has gradually arisen as an independent branch of learning and research during the last fifty years. This science continues the line of study which was at first that of organic chemistry, which, as its name indicates, was devoted to the chemistry of organised matter.
The organic chemists did not long content themselves with the study of naturally occurring substances, but passed to the synthetical preparation of innumerable compounds not previously to be found in nature. The study of the chemistry of life and of the products of living organisms, always pursued by some who were irresistibly attracted by the fascination of the problem, was greatly stimulated by the discoveries of Pasteur with regard to the intense chemical activities of micro-organisms, and its foundations have been firmly established by the work and teachings of many illustrious men. Hammarsten here in Sweden, where we rejoice to hear he still enjoys a dignified old age; Fischer in Germany, who laid bare the secrets of the sugars, the purines and – greatest mystery of all – the proteins and many others.
At the beginning of the present century this branch of chemistry was gradually winning recognition as an independent science under the name of Biochemistry. Simultaneously in England, America and Germany, Journals devoted to it alone were established – Journals all of which are embarrassed by a superfluity of matter. The Nobel awards of this year both in Chemistry and Medicine will go far to secure the due recognition of the subject – not yet everywhere accorded – as an independent branch of Science.
If I may for a moment yield to the Scandinavian atmosphere of Saga and fairy tale, Biochemistry was for long the Cinderella of the Sciences, lorded over by her elder – though I will not say ugly – sisters, Chemistry and Physiology. But now the secret visit to the ball has been paid, the fur slipper has been found and brought home (no doubt to the Nobel Institute) by the Prince, and Biochemistry, raised to a position of proud independence, knocks boldly at the door of the Palace of Life itself.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.