Tomas Lindahl’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in the Stockholm City Hall, 10 December 2015.
Ers Majestäter, Ers Kungliga högheter, Excellenser, Kära pristagare, Mina damer och herrar,
Jag tackar för äran att ha tilldelats Nobelpriset i kemi tillsammans med professor Modrich och professor Sancar.
The topic of my brief comments will be the crucial importance of our early mentors and teachers.
I had the privilege of attending an excellent state school in Stockholm. Bromma Gymnasium. Bromma is a green suburb of Stockholm, close to here.
In this school, I was fortunate to have excellent teachers in chemistry, biology, mathematics and literature. As an arrogant youngster I took this for granted.
But during my upper high school years my family moved to central Stockholm, so it seemed convenient to change school. This turned out to be a minor disaster. I did not like the teachers in the new school, and the teachers did not like me. In fact, one of them failed me in chemistry. This was serious because I needed good marks to be able to enter the Karolinska Medical School in Stockholm at a later stage. Thanks to the concern and help of my parents, I was fortunately able to return to my previous school and the excellent teachers there who supported me. In particular, I had inspiring help from an outstanding chemistry teacher. Her name was Karin Brandt. Mrs Brandt encouraged my interest in chemistry.
Thanks to my improved standing in chemistry, I was then able to enter Medical School. This personal experience of mine shows how important our teachers can be, and they should have our strong and enthusiastic support.
I had similar positive experiences at the Karolinska Medical School. I realised at an early stage that I might not become a very good doctor, but was fascinated by theoretical subjects, in particular medical chemistry. As a result, I started as a graduate student with the legendary DNA chemist, Einar Hammarsten. He was the first scientist who showed in his early work that DNA is a very large molecule, a macromolecule, and he created an important Swedish school in the field. Personally, he was like a cat, with intense green eyes, and totally temperamental and inspirational.
With my teachers and colleagues at the Karolinska, I learnt to think freely and critically, and I also learnt the importance of basic science.
Without outstanding teachers and new insights from basic science, progress in chemistry and biology would be much slower, and might even come to a standstill.