Interview with the 2015 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Tomas Lindahl on 6 December 2015, during the Nobel Week in Stockholm, Sweden.
Tomas Lindahl discusses what brought him to science; his Nobel Prize-awarded work (2:23); questions still to be answered in his field (3:45); a tough challenge in his life (4:35); what motivates him (5:43); when he does his best thinking (7:11); Eureka moments (8:00); inspiring teachers (9:22); what advice he would give himself at 20 years (11:01) and intelligence (11:53).
The 2015 Nobel Laureates met at the Grünewald Hall in the Stockholm Concert Hall in Stockholm on 11 December 2015 for the traditional round-table discussion and TV program ‘Nobel Minds’. The Nobel Laureates discussed if prizes inspire unnecessary competition, if it’s possible to fight inequality; the discoveries for which they’ve been honored and how these can be applied in a practical way, and what motivates them in their work. The discussion was hosted by Zeinab Badawi of the BBC.
“I feel very lucky and privileged”
Telephone interview with Tomas Lindahl following the announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 7 October 2015. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
Transcript of the interview
[Adam Smith] Oh hello, my names Adam Smith, calling from Nobelprize.org, the official website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm
[AS] Hello. Many congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
[TL] Thanks very much.
[AS] Could you tell me, how did you hear the news?
[TL] I had a phone call early this morning, just a couple of hours ago I guess, or an hour ago, from the Swedish Academy telling me this very good news.
[AS] An amazing phone call to get. What was your first reaction?
[TL] Well, surprise to some extent, not 100% surprise because Im getting up in the years and I know that I have been one of the well known scientists in my field of science, which is DNA repair for many years. So the question was will there be a Prize for DNA repair, and I think many people have now realised its a very important topic of research, and if so there would be 10, 15 excellent people you could choose from, and you cant give the Nobel Prize to more than three people. So I feel very lucky and privileged to be included in the top class that was awarded.
[AS] And it must be very special because I think youre the first Swede to receive the Chemistry Prize for 67 years, since Tiselius …
[TL] That may well be, yes.
[AS] Does that make it more special?
[TL] Yes, I think so because I got my initial training in Sweden, and I also had the difficult decision to do there, in that I was studying medicine, and research started looking very interesting and intriguing, so should I put aside my clinical studies for some time and concentrate on the research instead. And thats a risky decision to make for a young fellow, but I took the chance and I think it has worked out.
[AS] It has paid off, yes. As you say the Prize is for the field of DNA repair and youre considered a father figure in the field, and youve devoted your life also to cancer research for some decades, and …
[TL] Im not a politician, Im not used to talking on two phones at the same time, sorry …
[AS] I was just saying youve devoted your career to cancer research for some decades also, and these DNA repair mechanisms, they help protect our DNA but they also in some ways help protect cancer cells dont they?
[TL] Yes, thats an important topic of modern research. We want to understand repair mechanisms in some detail so that we can prevent the cancer cells from repairing DNA when we, for example, expose them to radiotherapy. But we do need the repairs to protect us against DNA damage that occurs inevitably.
[AS] Lastly, would you say the prospects for cancer research, for treating cancer or at least for turning cancer into a chronic disease, are good at the moment?
[TL] Yes, that is a very good and hot topic, not only for cancer but I think for many diseases. In this case we are getting away a little bit of trying to find a cure for everything and convert diseases into something we can live with. The reason weve had for a long time with diabetes. Its difficult to cure diabetes but we have good ways of treating diabetic patients. And I think with regard to DNA damage that will be increasingly important aspect of it. Im home now because I was going to do some writing at home today, but after this message it was decided that a driver will take me out to the laboratory where the work has been done in North London.
[TL] Thats the Clare Hall Laboratories.
[AS] Are you enjoying this? This attention?
[TL] Of course. Its always nice at the end of your career to have recognition that what you have done is actually important.
[AS] Indeed, indeed. Well how lovely to speak to you, thank you. I look forward to seeing you again in Stockholm in December and hopefully sooner in London.
[AS] Thank you. Bye bye, congratulations.
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.