Sir Robert Robinson’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1947
Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The winners of Nobel Prizes must be assumed to possess at least a modicum of imagination and sensibility and it is therefore incredible that any of us should not experience at this time a veritable surge of emotion. But it is hard to analyse our complex feelings and equally so to express them.
First we are all glad to have the opportunity of paying our sincere tribute to the memory of that great industrialist and philanthropist, Alfred Nobel, to whose generous impulse and high ideals we owe the possibility of these celebrations with all their ramifying consequences for the progress of culture in the broadest sense, and throughout the world.
Secondly, on behalf of all the foreigners here, I would wish to express our conviction that the noble traditions of the Swedish people, the physical framework of this beautiful city, and the whole intellectual atmosphere of your country, provide the unique medium in which the Nobel Foundation can grow and flourish.
It is our hope and belief that Sweden herself derives great benefits from this conception of a genius who had the power to make his dreams come true.
For myself, I warmly thank the Nobel Foundation and the Committee for Chemistry for this mark of their approbation and for an award which confers the highest distinction that a scientist can achieve. I am greatly beholden also to my sponsors and supporters.
It is well known that the Nobel Committees bring world opinion to a focus and that fact still further enhances the prestige attaching to the Prizes.
If I may now betray my own confidence I must confess that the news came to me as a pleasant surprise. I was much impressed by the perspicacity of the judges and jury. Not, I must hasten to say, that I disagree with their verdict! May I be allowed a few words to explain why their conclusion must have been difficult to reach. Of course I know that the summing up has already been provided by the eloquent partiality of Professor Fredga; I am most grateful for his kind words but am not absolved by them from making my own explanations. There is no one label that could be attached to me that would be thought adequate. I have never discovered a penicillin and I have not worked in the mines where ores of the more Nobeliferous metals are to be found. It has, however, been my privilege to have written a part of certain new chapters of organic chemistry. Such contributions as I have been able to make are to the science itself and do not derive their interest from the economic or biological importance of the substances studied. These are, as it were, analogous to the potters clay, or the sculptors stone, a kind of substrate for the exemplification of principles.
Finally, on behalf also of your guests, my wife and daughter, I thank you for the generous and thoughtful hospitality which we have experienced. We are indeed most grateful for the kindnesses showered upon us and we grasp with enthusiasm the hand of friendship extended to us.
Prior to the speech, Arne Tiselius, Vice-President of the Royal Academy of Sciences, made this comment: “From Great Britain two distinguished Laureates honour us with their presence: Sir Edward Appleton, the explorer of the unknown regions which form a border between our earth and the universe, and Sir Robert Robinson who with masterly skill explores the fine structural details of the complex molecules of organic origin. May we express our deep admiration for such brilliant achievements from a country which has suffered and still suffers so markedly from the consequences of the war.”
Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.