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Nobel Laureates: Their early inspirations

Nobel Laureates: Their early inspirations

By Laurie Winkless

Laurie is a physicist and science communicator. She is now working as Editor (International Programmes) at Nobel Media - the media arm of the Nobel Foundation.


Admit it. Plenty of us have pictured how we would respond to THAT phone call from Stockholm, telling us that we’d been awarded a Nobel Prize. But it’s good to know that many of the science Nobel Laureates admit to having had that same daydream too!

Just look at Peter Agre, who shared the 2003 Chemistry Prize with Roderick MacKinnon. He was very honest when speaking to a group of Russian students about his dreams of a Nobel Prize:

(Watch this film on the NPII website.)

Each of the Nobel Prizes can be shared between up to three individuals each year, but even then, the actual number of Nobel Laureates in the sciences is tiny. In total, 565 people have been awarded one of the science Prizes (Physiology or Medicine, Physics and Chemistry) since 1901, and that includes the eight newest Laureates announced last week. Higgs, Levitt and Schekman and their fellow awardees, find themselves in a very privileged position! But did they ever really think that they would be awarded a Nobel Prize?

Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared the Medicine or Physiology Prize with Jack Szostak and her colleague Carol Greider in 2009, never expected the odds to fall in her favour:

(Watch this film on the NPII website.)

Did these highly-respected researchers always dream of becoming scientists? And what were their early influences? Oliver Smithies, who shared the 2007 Medicine or Physiology Prize with Mario Capecchi and Sir Martin Evans, describes what he wanted to be when he grew up – an inventor!

(Watch this film on the NPII website.)

And Peter Doherty, who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rolf M. Zinkernagel, realised that he was good at science in school, but may have ended up on a completely different road:

(Watch this film on the NPII website.)

It’s clear from answers like this that the one thing that these scientists have in common is their love for their work. But, were they always destined for scientific greatness? Many science Laureates hail from scientific families – Bruce Beutler, the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine spoke fondly to an American student about the role that science played in his childhood:

(Watch this film on the NPII website.)

These clips form part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII), which aims to inspire and communicate with scientists, at all stages of their career. The initiative, led by Nobel Media, brings a Laureate to a series of universities, where they give a lecture and take part in series of Q&A sessions with young scientists.

This new website hopes to extend the reach of the initiative, by sharing of the content from these events with a global audience of scientists. The collection of short clips and lecture videos allows the Laureates to share their insights on everything from their childhood, through to communicating research, career options, and maintaining a good work-life balance.

Follow the initiative on Twitter @NobelPrizeii or Facebook

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