John O’Keefe’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2014.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of my colleagues May-Britt and Edvard Moser, and myself, I would like to express our gratitude to the Nobel Foundation for hosting this magnificent banquet. I would also like to express our gratitude to the Nobel Committee and Assembly for deeming our research worthy of this distinguished accolade. I think it’s fair to say that the Nobel Prize is the highest honor any scientist or artist can achieve. We are pleased and delighted.
We see the awards as a recognition not only of ourselves and our accomplishments but also of our collaborators in the study of the spatial functions of the hippocampus, and our colleagues in the wider field of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience. Cognitive neuroscience is entering an exciting era in which new technologies and ideas are making it possible to study the neural basis of cognition, perception, memory and emotion at the level of networks of interacting neurons, the level at which we believe many of the important operations of the brain take place. We know a considerable amount about how individual neurons work and how two cells can communicate with each other but the way in which entire networks of hundreds and thousands of neurons cooperate, interact with each other, and are orchestrated to create our ideas and concepts is an underexplored area of neuroscience. It is probably at this level that network failure occurs and leads to some of our most disturbing and intractable diseases of the mind and brain.
This new area of neuroscience has been made possible by the development of new optical, computer-based electronic, and molecular biological tools which will allow us tomonitor the activity of many thousands of cells simultaneously and to manipulate their activity. We will move from looking at correlations between brain activity and behaviour to studying how the brain causes mental states and behaviour. It is fitting therefore that our fellow laureates this year in physics and chemistry are world’s leaders in providing us with some of these tools. We are eager to begin to use some of the laser-based optical techniques being developed by our chemistry co- laureates.
We are also pleased to be receiving the prize with laureates from so many different countries. Science is the quintessential international endeavour and the sterling reputation of the Nobel awards is partly due to the widely-perceived lack of national and other biases in the selection of the laureates. We believe that the future great contributions to our understanding of the biological and physical world can come from citizens of any country in any part of the world. It is to the credit of the Nobel committees that they have steadfastly endeavoured to follow Alfred Nobel’s wishes that the prizes recognise contributions to the welfare of humanity regardless of country of origin, gender, race or religious affiliation.
I want to end by recognising and thanking our many collaborators and colleagues too numerous to mention in this short speech, our universities, UCL and NTNU, and our generous funders.
Thank you for your attention. Tack.
Watch the Banquet speech