Monday, December 14, 2009

A Nobel Prize Made of Chocolate? (My Amazing Race to Stockholm)

It began Thursday morning with an email labeled "Urgent". By Saturday afternoon, I was eating reindeer mousse and deer pate in Stockholm at a private lunch with the 3 biologists who won this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine.

Let's back up a bit. Science magazine and GE sponsor an essay contest for young biologists and every year the grand prize and regional winners get their award in Stockholm during Nobel Prize week, so that they get to meet the biology Nobel winners (Here's a description of the award and a video of last year's festivities -- there may be one of this year's ceremony posted later). This year, a colleague here in Cambridge who was supposed to host the ceremony hurt his foot Wednesday night so we were desperate Thursday to find someone to find someone for the Friday night ceremony. While I was looking forward to a quiet weekend, how could I pass this up? The only sad thing was Katie couldn't come as she had no passport--it was getting renewed as it's about to expire.

I spent Thursday racing around madly, booking my flight, bicycling over to the hurt colleague's home to get his Swedish crowns, and packing. KT was a Godsend, washing and ironing my good dress shirts even with hosting friends for a dinner. Friday morning I caught a 6:30am cab to Heathrow airport for a 10:30am flight. The whole cab ride was in heavy fog but I assumed it would burn off. Nope. I was fogged in at the airport--flights were canceled or delayed allover the place. As I impatiently waited, it became clear I might not make the 7pm ceremony in Stockholm. It didn't help that the airline rarely updated the information on the flight. Finally, however, the plane arrived and after a quick gas-up, we took off more than 4 hours late at 2:30pm (3:30pm Stockholm time). As I landed at 6:05pm, I felt like I was in an episode of Amazing race. I dashed through Customs, waited with annoyance for my checked-in luggage(checking the bag was stupid, I chided myself), and then ran to catch the high speed train that makes the 20 minute trip to the city centre train station, where I hopped into a cab to the hotel where the ceremony was taking place. I left my bags at the door and dashed upstairs...to be handed a glass of champagne at 7:10pm.

Fortunately, there was a cocktail party before the ceremony so I had about 30 minutes to cool down and learn what I was supposed to do! The dinner ceremony went splendidly. We were in the Hall of Mirrors at the Grand Hotel, the impressive ballroom where the Nobel prizes were given out for the first few decades. Albert Einstein and Marie Curie got their prizes in that room, which was modeled after one in the Palace of Versailles, and all the Nobel prize winners and their families still stay at the hotel (Nobel factoid: winner get to bring 16 other people to Stockholm). I introduced the CEO of GE Healthcare, made a little speech about encouraging young scientists, gave a little story about the work of each winner, and handed out the awards. At my table, I had the winner from Japan, Japan's ambassador to Sweden and several prominent Swedish scientists. The night's entertainment were 8 members of a famed 100-plus men's choir from Sweden called Orphei Drangar.

The next day was equally fun. The kids and I were transported to the Nobel Forum, the building at the Karolinska Institute where the Physiology/Medicine prize is decided by 50 faculty members. After meeting with the president of the Karolinska, we and the faculty got to ask questions of this year's winners (Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak) who had made a fundamental discovery on how cells protect their chromosomes, one that may be relevant to aging. Afterward, about 40 of us had a private lunch with the Nobel prize winners. We ate on special gold-plated china that is only used when Nobel laureates are dining at the Forum. The Nobel laureates by that point were relaxing (pictured above with GE essay winners and the Nobel Forum's attendants). They had already received their prize earlier in the week, attended the big concert, and given their Nobel lecture. Blackburn apparently amused everyone by being the first Laureate to thank her driver--the prize winners get whisked around Stockholm the whole week by special limo drivers. She also got laughs at the lunch by expressing her disappointment that the Nobel prize wasn't made of chocolate--gold foil-covered chocolate "medals" (top picture) were handed out at the Forum and we all stuffed many in our pockets.

That whirlwind was the end of my work duties--less than 24 hours of craziness!--but I then spent a delightful Saturday afternoon roaming Stockholm's Old Town. All the Christmas decorations were out and since it starts getting dark there by 3 pm, the lights were all glittering by the time the snow started falling on the Royal Palace and Christmas markets. Sunday, the weather remained nice and I walked to the Vasamuseum, which houses a 17th century warship that had sunk and been raised in the 1960s (KT went to it alsp on her trip last year to Stockholm) and took a boat tour through the canals of Stockholm. Before heading back to the airport, I went to 2 more Christmas markets, one with an ice rink and carolers singing Rudolph in Swedish and the second where I bought 7 kinds of smoked sausage to bring home to KT. Aren't I the best husband in the world--Who needs diamonds or perfume? --JT

Here's a short photoalbum of the trip (I only had my camera phone)

1 comment:

Leslie said...

You have just helped me figure out what to give to Leslie for Christmas. You are definitely hanging with the bigs.

Peter