Monday, December 10, 2007


Today's Nobel Prize Day here in Sweden. I turned on the TV and they are doing interviews with the families, discussion about how the ceremony is done (eg, scenes of recipients practicing on stage how to get the award, shake hands with the king, walk backwards to their seat (?)), and so on. The family interviews are so charming. These are people given quite literally the royal treatment while they visit Sweden, and having a lot of fun, but also not used to being on camera and asked questions all the time. For example, the interviewers were obviously prepped and knew about the background of the two women they were interviewing, in one case referring to the type of horses the older woman had back in the US.

These are, after all, academics and researchers very much like a lot of people I know. Which is very cool in its own right that people I know might be honored in this way. And especially cool is that this event is being broadcast on live TV. The royal family just came in and sat down, so it's started. The closest I can compare to is the Oscars, and a bit with the background stories you see in the Olympic coverage. But in neither of those are the laureates required to present a lecture. I would much rather watch this.

Gerhard Ertl won the 2007 Nobel for Chemistry. He'll be repeating his lecture at Chalmers on Thursday, 10.30am. That's about 4 blocks from here and I'm going. I wonder how early I'll need to be. Who wouldn't want to hear a 45 minute lecture on "Reactions at Solid Surfaces: From Atoms to Complexity"? I should make sure to dress nicely.

Okay, back to the tube. The speech is talking about the need for basic research. One of the things I love about this country! :)

P.S.: I think the "walking backwards" part was to show how things were done. So far the first three winners have not had to walk backwards. Here's a quote from Yeats (Literature, 1923) from Time magazine:

At the presentation ceremony in Stockholm, Yeats saw with dismay that the recipients, after going down from the platform to receive their medals from the King, had to walk backwards up the steps again. Most of them sidled up, half-turned; when it came Yeats's turn he made a great effort, clambered up carefully, straight backward. "As the cheering grows much louder when I get there, I must have roused the sympathy of the audience."

and from unnamed Dean of Engineering at Princeton when he went as a guest in 1998:

Then he turned around and walked back to his chair, without having to learn how to walk backwards like an Orange Key guide!

So, no longer required.