What is it like to find out you’ve won the Nobel Prize?

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year. The days gradually begin to have less and less hours of sunshine in a day while the cold crispness of the air reminds you that winter is not too far away.  There is a sense of expectancy as the tension between the last remains of summer and the first signs of colder weather is played out.

Another reason why I associate autumn with a sense of expectancy is because the winners of the Nobel Prize are announced during the month of October. This year, the announcement schedule is as follows

  • Physiology or Medicine – 7 October
  • Physics – 8 October
  • Chemistry – 9 October
  • Literature – 10 October
  • Peace – 11 October
  • Economic Sciences – 14 October.

Most of us can only aspire to achieve the breakthroughs that are required to be considered to receive such a prestigious accolade. Let’s be honest, in comparison, most of us will just have to settle to contributing to the ranks of mediocrity. I, for one, have accepted this (but this doesn’t mean I don’t strive for excellence in my own way).  Nobel laureates provide an example for all of us.

However, it is easy to forget, that those individuals that are bestowed with such an honour are still regular people and finding out about winning such an award is a big shock.

This year, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded jointly to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C.  Südhof “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.” You can watch the announcement below,

Obviously in the age of new media, the Nobel Prize website provided immediate interview reactions from the scientists. (These are available on the Nobel Prize website).

All three initial and brief interviews were interesting and insightful and provided a glimpse into what it means to win a prize of this magnitude. However, for me, the interview with Thomas C. Südhof stood out.  I tweeted about this yesterday,

The full audio and transcript can be found here.

In proportion to the importance of the prize, the reaction seems just a little bit understated, yet somehow appropriate. I mean, what would you say if you’ve won the Nobel Prize? However, this fascinating audio snippet highlighting what it is like to find out you’ve won the Nobel Prize does show that the first reaction can be very much dependent on one’s context.

[AS] This is Adam Smith calling from the Nobel Prize website in Stockholm, where it has just been announced that you have been awarded the Nobel Prize, together with Jim Rothman and Randy Schekman.

[TCS] Are you serious?

[AS] I am serious, yes, my name is Adam Smith and I work for Nobel Media, which is the media company for the Nobel Foundation, and the announcement has just been made, just a very few minutes ago, here in Stockholm.

[TCS] Oh my god (laughs).


[TCS] Let me just stop for a moment here because I’m driving in the middle of Spain somewhere.