Nobel Prizes Awarded At Elaborate Ceremony
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
As President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize today in Norway, this year's other Nobel Laureates, 12 of them, collected their prizes in Stockholm, Sweden.
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NORRIS: In an elaborate ceremony, Sweden's king awarded the honors for chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and economics.
And NPR's Joe Palca is in Stockholm attending the festivities. Hello, Joe.
JOE PALCA: Hi, Michele.
NORRIS: So, tell us about this award ceremony. What was it like?
PALCA: Well, it's really tightly orchestrated. Everything's down to the minute, but it's in a big concert hall filled to about 1,500 people or so, I'm told. And the king comes in, everybody stands up and then everybody sits down. And they play music. And then the king awards the prizes and everybody stands up. It's very formal and quite remarkable to see.
NORRIS: Now, we should explain here that you're at the festivities in part because you happen to know one of the winners.
PALCA: That's right. The big news about the Nobel is usually, for us, when they're awarded and we all talk about what they're for and why they're important and it's an annual event where we cover the Nobel announcement, this is the first time that I know of that NPR's come to the award ceremony.
And the reason I asked to come and thought it would be interesting to come is that the winner in physiology or medicine, Carol Greider, is someone I've known for 17 years. We went on a bike trip 17 years ago in Alaska with a bunch of her friends from graduate school. And it's just so remarkable to have someone who you know as a scientist, you know she's a good scientist and now, you know, the king of Sweden is hanging a medal around her neck. It's a moment that I won't ever forget and to see her beaming on stage was just really, really special.
NORRIS: What did she do to earn that award?
PALCA: It was almost one of those ah-ha moments. It was Christmas day in 1984, when she was looking for an enzyme. It has to do with Y chromosomes, these are these things that our genes are buried in, Y chromosomes don't get shorter every time they divide. Now, it's kind of a complicated thing of why that would happen, but it does. Or it seems like it ought to. And nobody could figure out why it didn't. And she found the enzyme that prevents the ends of chromosomes from getting shorter and she called it telomeres.
And it's now, turns out to be important in everything from aging to cancer. And so it's one of those prizes, but one of those moments when you see something, you think, oh, this could be important. And now, you know, here we are, whatever it is, 25 years later, and she's being awarded the Nobel Prize for that discovery.
NORRIS: Now, we noted that the Nobel Prizes were also awarded for physics, medicine, literature, economics. Can you tell us about any of the other awardees?
PALCA: Well, they are all, you know, remarkable in their own way. I mean, the chemistry prize was for something called ribosomes, which is an important piece of the machinery that makes proteins in cells. And the physics prize was for fiber optics and also the charge-coupled devices. These are the things inside of cameras that take light and turns it into electric signals that can then go into a computer chip and make a picture.
So, yeah, they were very interesting prizes this year. A little bit easier to describe than some years, where it's kind of obscure stuff. This year was a little bit more familiar to most people, but all interesting and all very nice people. I have been here in Stockholm going to the some of the receptions and the lunches and, you know, seeing these people at breakfast and it's kind of cool. I mean, you know, they're Nobel Prize winners, but they still have coffee and toast in the morning.
NORRIS: Well, Joe Palca, enjoy your time there. Get back to us safely.
PALCA: I will. Thanks very much.
NORRIS: That was Joe Palca in Stockholm. Joe described the awards for medicine, chemistry and physics. The economics prize was awarded for work in the field of economic governance. And the literature prize went to the German writer Herta Muller.
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