The Nobel Laureate Life

Educating.  Inspiring.  Connecting.  That is what Nobel Life is about, a book that shares the stories of 24 Nobel Laureates through sit-down conversations.  The book was written by Stefano Sandrone, a neuroscientist recognized at the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in physiology and medicine.  Although most people have heard of the Nobel Prize, they tend to be unfamiliar with the winners and the person after whom the prestigious award is named after.

Who is Alfred Nobel and What is a Nobel Prize?

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and philanthropist.  His family was impoverished, and he was one of eight children of which only three survived.  Although he is most famously recognized for the Nobel prizes that carry his name, he created a unique explosive mix that would become the standard technology for mining.  This discovery, along with other investments, helped him amass a great fortune which he left behind to create the Nobel prizes.

A Nobel prize is a recognition that is bestowed upon a person(s) whose contribution has conferred the greatest benefit to mankind in an area of physics, chemistry, literature, peace, or physiology or medicine.  Simply put, the prize tends to be awarded those that make new discoveries or new innovations that change life for everyone.  The award can be jointly awarded to up to three people and it includes a monetary award.  The selection process is quite secretive, and nominees are not disclosed until fifty years have passed.

Who were some of the Nobel Laureates that stood out in Nobel Life?

Roald Hoffman, winner of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has an origin story is nothing short of being remarkable.  As a child, Hoffman lived in a ghetto and a labour camp since his family were Polish Jews that were being persecuted during WW2.  Hoffman spent fifteen months in the attic of a school during WW2, or, as he describes it, from the age of five until he was just about to turn seven.  During that period, a sack of peas served as his pillow.  Although Hoffman recalls looking through the slats in a wooden window of the attic they were in and watching the kids playing outside for recess, he was not allowed to play outside and so his mother played verbal games like geography facts.  Hoffman later reflected on seeing how five-year-old children behaved and it really gave him a sense of appreciation for how his mother was able to keep him quiet and happy for that period of their lives, and how he owed everything to her and the other family that hid them while knowing that the punishment for harboring Jews meant death.

Randy W. Schekman was just like any other kid when he decided to take up mowing lawns and delivering newspapers so that he could save up enough money to buy a professional microscope.  Whenever Schekman got close to the one hundred dollar mark, his mother would borrow some money from him but she would never replace it.  Eventually Schekman threw a temper tantrum, hopped on his bicycle and rode it to the police station, and he told the police officer that his parents were stealing his money and that he could not buy a microscope.  Schekman’s father was called down to the police station and spoke with the officers in a closed room, coming out with a rather severe look on his face before taking his soon to buy the microscope.  He went on to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Kary Mullis grew up with an affinity for playing ‘science’ and making rocket-propelled projectiles.  On one occasion, Mullis recruited a frog from his yard and conscripted him to be a passenger on one of his homemade rockets.  The frog was blasted into the air and it somehow managed to survive the landing.  There was another incident where Mullis burned a tree with while playing with chemicals.  Similar to how most parents would react, Mullis’ mother watched in shock and became concerned that one of these projects might cause her son to blow his eyes out.  It did not, and in 1993 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Brian P. Schmidt described his transition into adulthood as him being a little lost but that he very mischievous.  Schmidt admitted to doing some “mildly crazy or absurd things” and taking many classes because he was bored.  Schmidt was hesitant to give any examples of those “crazy or absurd things,” but he did admit to shooting rockets off the roof of his university while faculty looked on and, and also using a large catapult to shoot oranges across the university campus. Now the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, he shared the win for the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011.

How good is Nobel Life?

Nobel Life is one of the most significant books I have ever read.  This book provides readers with a rare glimpse into the life stories of Nobel Laureates and their road to the prize.  After finishing, it is impossible not to have the feeling that winning a Nobel prize is something that anyone can achieve if they are prepared to commit themselves to their field of work.  It often takes a few decades, and there is of course some luck that is involved, but every winner was a regular person that strived to be exceptional.