Interview with the 2004 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck, by science writer Peter Sylwan 11 December 2004.
The Laureates talk about the big event of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony; the genes of the olfactory system (1:47); the importance of the sensor organ (3:33); the smell of emotions (10:28); the mapping out of the molecules of sense inside the brain (14:43); and challenges for neuroscience in the future (18:29).
Participating in the 2004 edition of Nobel Minds: the Nobel Laureates in Physics, David J. Gross and Frank Wilczek, the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose, the Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck and the Laureates in Economic Sciences, Finn E. Kydland and Edward C. Prescott. Program host is Nik Gowing.
Telephone interview with Dr. Linda B. Buck after the announcement of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine by science writer Joanna Rose, 4 October 2004.
– Hello, is this Linda Buck?
– Yes, it is.
– Hello, my name is Joanna Rose, I call from Sweden, from Nobelprize.org, which is the official web site of the Nobel Foundation, and I would like to congratulate you so much.
– Oh, thank you, I am so thrilled.
– How do you feel now?
– Well, I’ve just been in a shock for the last hour and a half.
– Oh, I see. Did you expect the message?
– No, I was asleep and I was really quite surprised.
– I understand. Did you ever have the thought, since 1991, that it could be possible to get the Prize?
– Oh, you know, a few people had mentioned it to me and I didn’t really take it seriously.
– I understand. What does the Nobel Prize mean to you?
– I was just going back to sleep … It’s wonderful. It means that others appreciate the work that you’ve done, it’s very gratifying, from that standpoint, and I think that all of us who are scientists do science because we love what we do. It’s out of a sense of curiosity and a desire to understand how things work.
– Do you think that the Prize will affect your future work in any way?
– No, I don’t think so, in terms of the actual experiments that I do. I hope that other women, scientists, receiving a Nobel Prize that will help women, young women, to see that it is possible to accomplish things, and I think it’s very nice from that standpoint.
– Do you think it is harder for women to do science?
– I think it is harder for women to do science, to mix a career, any career, actually, and family, but I think that, in these days it is possible for women to accomplish things, but maybe some women don’t realise that.
– So how do you manage?
– And I think that may help to give them confidence.
– Yes, sure. How would you describe, how do you manage to do science?
– Well I devote most of my time to it. But, you know, that’s my choice, but I think that … I feel very fortunate to be a scientist, because I think it is something that … I feel very lucky to be able to spend my time doing something that I love to do. Not everyone has that opportunity.
– Can you give a message or a piece of advice to others, to young students, whose greatest wish maybe is to receive a Nobel Prize in the future?
– Well, what I always tell my students is that it’s important to do something, to study something that fascinates you. Pick a problem that you’re extremely interested in. That sounds kind of simplistic maybe, but it’s not, because you don’t want to just do a problem because it’s easy to solve, you want to do something that you’re obsessed with, that you just have to understand, because that’s where the joy comes from, and that also, I think, is where the great discoveries come from, for people are really trying to try to figure out things that they don’t understand. And they don’t necessarily know how to do it, but they try very hard and then they succeed.
– So what about you, did you always wish to become a scientist?
– No, I didn’t. When I was young, I wasn’t sure. One thing that was important to me was that I felt that … when I was in my late teens and early twenties that … I felt that it was important to try to help other people, and so I wasn’t sure about science at first, because I thought that it was … maybe it wouldn’t fulfil that requirement and then I decided that it may after all, by learning things and about how biology worked, that would give insight into basic mechanisms. I am not saying that I was that sophisticated in thinking about it, but I thought … I came to the opinion that it was okay after all. In retrospect I could say that, you know what I just said about the basic mechanisms and so on, because I know more.
– What do you think about it today, will your discovery have any clinical applications, for example, to help people in this meaning?
– I think, ultimately. It hasn’t yet, but in terms of olfactory disorders there’s a possibility. But I think that, like in many other biological areas, the information that you gain doesn’t have a direct or immediate clinical use, and rather it gives you insight into biological mechanisms which then can be transferred into other areas. Provide insight into other areas, and also I think that using, as we use the odour receptors as molecular tools to investigate the brain, we may discover things about how the brain works that we don’t necessarily know anything about yet. But of course we won’t know that until we find out how it works.
– It’s a step on this way. I have another question: this is going to be a very long day for you today, what are you planning to do?
– I’m going to go in to work, and talk to the press, and I was going to try to get a couple of hours of sleep, and then answer requests for interviews and so on.
– My last question: have you ever visited the Nobel Prize web site?
– Oh, yes I have, it is a lovely site. Were you a part of building that?
– It’s wonderful. I think it’s excellent!
– The interview is going to be published there. Also I hope to meet you in December in Stockholm.
– Thank you very much. I look forward to meeting you.
– I wish you a nice day today.
– Thank you so much.
– My biggest congratulations.
– Thank you.
– Bye, bye.
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