January 11, 2002

Gould recalls Nobel Prize gala

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From left to right are: Dr. Jacky Hayles, longtime co-worker, daughter Sarah Nurse, Dr. James Maller, key collaborator, daughter Emily Nurse, Sir Paul Nurse, and former postdoctoral fellows Dr. Chris Norbury, Dr. Kathy Gould, Dr. Pierre Thuriaux, and Dr. Sergio Moreno.

Gould recalls Nobel Prize gala

Attending the Nobel Festivities in Stockholm last December was a little like being in a movie, said Kathy L. Gould, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and associate investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Four days of elegant concerts, dinners, and receptions culminated in the supreme grandeur of the Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet.

“I could not have imagined the scale of the events,” Gould said. “It was an honor to attend.”

Gould was part of the festivities at the invitation of her mentor, Sir Paul M. Nurse, who was one of three scientists awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their seminal discoveries concerning how the cell cycle is regulated. While working with Nurse in his lab at Oxford as a post-doctoral fellow, Gould helped define the regulatory events triggering mitosis, or cell division.

“Paul sets an outstanding example of a scientist and a man, one to admire and emulate,” she said. “He’s a well-rounded individual, brilliant, and has always been extremely focused in his research on important biological problems. Also, he has been very supportive of junior scientists who have worked with him. A large number of post-doctoral fellows have, with his support, established themselves as independent investigators.”

Several of the other scientists who contributed to his research were also in attendance in Stockholm at Nurse’s invitation, and Gould said she especially enjoyed sharing the experience with them.

Since 1901, the Nobel Prizes have been presented to the Laureates at ceremonies on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of international industrialist Alfred Nobel. According to Professor Bengt Samuelsson, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, in the opening address of this year’s awards, Nobel “based his world view on a critical scientific rationalism, combined with an idealism based on humanism, social compassion, and hope for a more peaceful future.” Nobel’s values, he continued, inspired the purposes of the Nobel Prizes, and “each year’s…winning contributions can therefore be regarded as another annual ring on the verdant tree of humanism.”

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the prizes, a phalanx of past Laureates were seated on the stage of the Stockholm Concert Hall, along with the Swedish royal family, as His Majesty the King of Sweden handed each of this year’s winners a diploma and a medal. “It was an impressive scene,” Gould said.

“Another special aspect,” she said, “was that I know one of the other Laureates, Tim Hunt, who exhibited the most childlike delight and surprise at winning the award. Paul was the last of the three to be presented the Prize, and as he walked back to his seat, Tim reached out and gave him a big hug. They are good friends, and it was just wonderful that they could share that moment together. It brought tears to the eyes of everyone who knew them.”

The banquet that followed the awards ceremony was, according to Gould, “the most spectacular event.” Held in the vast and stately Stockholm City Hall, the dinner featured nearly 1300 attendees in formal evening wear seated at long tables resplendent with silver and candlelight. As strains of orchestral music floated down from a balcony overlooking the great hall, the royal family and the Laureates filed slowly down a wide, elaborate staircase to take their seats at the central table of honor.

Bearing gleaming silver trays of food high overhead, the 100 or more select servers also entered by way of the grand staircase, timing their movements to the beat of the orchestra. During dinner, operatic vocalists serenaded the guests with arias.

After the banquet, the guests moved upstairs to the ballroom for music and dancing. The celebration continued with an all-night event hosted by the Medical Students’ Association of Stockholm, in which partygoers roamed through room after room of mythological and fantasy-based décor, enjoying even more food and libations through the wee hours of the morning.

When asked if she made it to the end, Gould said, “Oh, yes—I knew I could sleep some other time.”

It is rumored that Alfred Nobel once predicted that his prizes would last 30 to 50 years, because by then there would either be peace in the world or the barbarians would be in control.

On this 100th anniversary, that thought seems especially poignant.