The Week in News that Science Rules

If I had to predict the week that science stories get top coverage in the world press, I would be the house on this week. That’s because this week the Nobel Prizes are announced.

All around the world, researchers will be getting unexpected phone calls telling them they have won an all expenses paid trip to Stockholm. Many might suspect that they have been nominated, but none can be sure until 50 years after their nomination – usually long after they are dead.

I visited Sweden in 2007 for the 300th birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the man who put biology’s house in order, allowing Darwin to do what he did. As part of the tour, I visited the Nobel Museum in Stockolm, and I figured I might as well share my reflections on visiting that amazing cathedral of science. So, I am posting a blog post that was never published from that time, and here’s hoping someone in Canada gets a Nobel this year.

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Ask anyone about Swedish science and the Nobel prizes are bound to be the first thing they mention.  So, although Linnaeus lived well before Alfred Nobel, it is fitting that I visit the Nobel Museum.  Afterall, if anyone understands the life and passion of a scientist such as Linnaeus, the Nobel Laureates should.

 

The museum is a stunning examination and example of creativity.  Each of the 787 Laureates hang overhead on a poster that slides along a conveyer belt 148.5 metres long.  It would take you 4.5 hours just to see each of their posters.

 

The museum is also a sort of scientific shrine, where science pilgrims can come to see relics such as Linus Pauling’s beret, Sir Alexander Fleming’s penicillin-covered Petri dish, even a piece of the radio telescope that discovered pulsars.

 

The Nobel Museum also plays two sets of movies studying the origin of creativity.  One set examines creativity within groups, research centres, and universities.  The other examines creativity from the point of view of individuals, as told by various Nobel Laureates in three minutes.  According to the Director of the Nobel Museum, Svante Lindqvist, courage is the key trait of Nobel Laureates.  “Laureates need courage to challenge established ideas and theories supported by their superiors.”

 

The movie I watched featured the Basel Institute for Immunology, a research centre in Switzerland which had members receive three Nobel Prizes before being closed in 2000.  The movie was perhaps a little like genius, disjointed and combining seemingly unconnected ideas in strange ways.  It was trippy and futuristic, then it looked like an old black and white mad scientist movie.  It was your home videos from the 1950s and what might happen if a group of drunk friends hit record and mumbled stuff in front of the camera.  Of course, it was all these things because groundbreaking science can be all these things.

 

 

Director of the Nobel Museum, Svante Lindqvist, holds up a cafeteria chair displaying half a dozen Nobel Laureate signatures.

Director of the Nobel Museum, Svante Lindqvist, holds up a cafeteria chair displaying half a dozen Nobel Laureate signatures.

Despite the mind-expanding movie on curiosity, the most fantastic part of the Nobel Museum was the cafeteria.  It looks like any other museum cafeteria, and I would even guess that the food is the same as any other museum’s.  But, if you look under your chair you will find more than gum.  Rather you will find the signatures of Nobel Laureates who have visited the Museum over the years.  Perhaps that shows another truth of scientific curiosity – look in the dark unexplored areas and you could find greatness.

 

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