Lord Todd’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1957
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I find it hard to express adequately my appreciation of the honour which has been done me – for surely the bestowal of a Nobel Prize is the greatest honour a man of science can receive. It is, at the same time, an honour which brings with it a sense of humility and when I think of the great names which adorn the roll of Nobel prizewinners in chemistry, I am deeply moved that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences should have felt me worthy of such recognition. And I would mention especially that among these names is that of Sir Robert Robinson, whom I first knew as my teacher and since then as a staunch friend, I am proud to acknowledge publicly the immense debt I owe him for his guidance and encouragement.
In making its award, the Academy is recognising not only my work but also that of the research students from many lands with whom I have had the good fortune to be associated over the years. Without their devoted help I should have achieved but little and I am deeply grateful to them.
As an organic chemist I have naturally a soft spot in my heart for Sweden – for was it not your countryman Berzelius who first defined organic chemistry as the chemistry of the substances found in living matter? There have been other, later, definitions of different types and it is, of course, clear, if only from the enormous development of the organic chemical industry that the science deals with many things seemingly far removed from living matter. But, for myself, I have in my work followed, in the main, the definition of Berzelius, and I believe that we stand today on the threshold of a new era in which the organic chemist following this path may provide the keys necessary to unlock the secrets of the cell nucleus. There is, in these days, a natural tendency for us to marvel at the secrets of the atomic nucleus, whose exploration by the physicists and whose harnessing for use – and, alas, misuse – by man have been the outstanding feature of this century so far. The nucleus of the living cell has received much less notice. But in my view the secrets of the cell nucleus are at least as important as those of the atomic nucleus and their revelation may yet prove to be man’s greatest triumph in the second half of the twentieth century. In this revelation, the organic chemist must play a major role and the outlook for the young research worker is as bright and full of promise as it has ever been in the past.
In conclusion, I should like also to express on behalf of myself, my wife and my family our thanks for your warm welcome and your wonderful hospitality. We are indeed grateful and we will always cherish the memory of this occasion.
Prior to the speech, B. Karlgren, Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: You have, Sir Alexander, with a rare tenacity and a wonderful acumen pushed forward step by step into the enigmatic realm that now fascinates many of the keenest brains working in the field of organic chemistry, that of the fundamental structure of the cells. From your workshop in that venerable stronghold of learning and research, Cambridge, you have been able to issue bulletins announcing victories upon victories, time and again new domains conquered by you and your collaborators, and today no scholar can seriously approach this line of research without making constant and extensive use of your results. No wonder that your colleagues in the Stockholm Academy have been eager to signalize your conquests by aid of the Nobel prize. Our congratulations should best be formed as a fervent wish that you will be allowed to continue for many years your epoch-making studies.