Jack W. Szostak answers phone calls after the announcement of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

© Harvard Gazette 2009, Photo: Justin Ide

The Nobel Prize call

Minutes before a Nobel Prize is announced, the Nobel Prize laureate is called and told they have been awarded the Nobel Prize. These calls can come at unexpected times and reach Nobel Prize laureates in unexpected places. Here are some recollections of those special moments when the ‘magic call’ came through.

“Who’s the schnook this year?”

In 2010, (before the Academy started leaving voicemails) Martin Chalfie received the call from Stockholm, but it was just too early in the morning for him to answer. After all, he does live in New York City. Finally Adam Smith from nobelprize.org managed to speak to him:

Smith: “I read in the news wires that you did not actually receive a call from Stockholm this morning.”

Chalfie: “I did not. Well, I did, but I didn’t answer it because I slept through it.”

Smith: “How did you actually found out that you had …?”

Chalfie: “Ah. This is a sort of ridiculous situation, but sort of funny. I woke up at ten after six, and I realised that they must have given the prize in chemistry, so I simply said, ‘Okay, who’s the schnook that got the prize this time?’ And so I opened up my laptop, and I got to the Nobel Prize site and I found out I was the schnook!”

After finding out that Chalfie was that year’s schnook, he told his wife: “It’s happened”. His wife replied “What? Have we overslept taking our daughter to school?”.

Eric Kandel and Martin Chalfie
Eric Kandel (left), Nobel Prize laureate in Physiology or Medicine 2000, greets 2008 laureate Martin Chalfie at Columbia University, 8 October 2008. Copyright © Columbia University 2008, Photo: Eileen Barroso

“Wow. This is amazing. I am shaking. What an honour!”

Recalling the excitement ICAN’s Beatrice Fihn felt when she learnt that ICAN had received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Watch the very moment she received the call.

“Well, Robin and I often have a beer down by the riverside at this time of year”

Barry Marshall got the call in an Australian pub with his colleague Robin Warren, where they went every year the day of the announcement. “I mean, of course, we would always dream about winning the Nobel, but we never really thought we would.” Even after receiving the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, they still continue with their annual pub visit. Read the full interview with Marshall here.

Marshall and Warren
Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren at the interview in Stockholm, 6 December 2005. Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2005, Photo: Hans Mehlin

“This is it!”

“Since then, my life has not been the same” – Randy Schekman recalls the moment he found out he’d been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

“That will get you a job here!”

As Linda Buck’s phone number was unlisted, the Nobel committee instead managed to call the director of Linda Buck’s division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The director received a Swedish call at 2.00 am in Seattle asking for the number of Linda Buck. As Buck was on the faculty search committee, the director assumed that the call was from someone that was interested in the faculty position, but was unaware of the time difference.

The director therefore said that if he was interested in receiving a job, calling at this time wasn’t the best way to do it. When the director heard the real reason for the call, he replied, “That will get you a job here!”

“The captain came to me and told me I got the prize”

Richard Ernst was on a flight from Moscow to New York when he was informed by the captain that he had been awarded the 1991 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Hear him talk about it here.

Portrait of Richard R. Ernst.
Portrait of Richard R. Ernst. Photo taken at the Rome Festival of Mathematics, April 2009. Copyright © Patrizia Genovesi, Kindly provided by Patrizia Genovesi

“I was sleeping”

When Elizabeth Blackburn received the Nobel Prize call in 2009, she was sleeping as it was only 2.00 am in California.

To cite this section
MLA style: The Nobel Prize call. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Tue. 23 Jul 2024. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/themes/the-nobel-call>