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Just how inspiring are the Nobel Prizes, anyway?

Published onsdag 10 december 2014 kl 15.48
"Wow, that's uh... do you have a bigger question?"
(4:05 min)
nobel medal
File photo: Nobel Prize medal inscribed to F. G. Banting. License: CC by 2.0. http://bit.ly/1Day82a

With so much focus on the gowns and the menu of the Nobel banquet here in Sweden, it might seem natural to ask just how inspiring people find the actual Nobel Prizes, themselves.

Radio Sweden asked people on the streets of Stockholm, right in front of the Stockholm Concert Hall, where the prizes are given out, how inspired by they were by the Nobel Prizes. 

A couple of local high school students on their way to lunch after seeing some Nobel-themed lectures at Karolinska Institutet expressed hopes to perhaps one day to win a Nobel Prize in one of the sciences. 

The high school that boasts the most alumni who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes is The Bronx High School of Science, which has produced eight laureates – seven in physics and one in chemistry. Principal Jean Donahue says that as far as they know, this is the record for a high school. 

Donahue talks about how alumni who have won Nobel Prizes, most recently Robert Lefkowitz, have come back to speak to students. She believes very much that students at the high school feel that a Nobel Prize might be within their grasp. 

"Here's this really famous person who once was, you know, a kid in this high school, sitting in one of the seats that we have here," says Donahue.

It could be, however, that Nobel Prizes may be even more inspiring for students who have not grown up with such a close connection to them.

Adam Smith from the Nobel Inspiration Initiative takes laureates around the world to inspire university students, especially in emerging markets and developing countries, where he says the response is huge.

"The appetite for the sort of inspiration you can get from a Nobel laureate is enormous," says Smith, who describes packed lecture halls in China, Korea, Russia, Brazil and India, with people "crammed in the aisles" to hear from the laureates.

He also relates how one student in Brasília broke into tears of happiness after meeting the Nobel laureate Martin Chalfie.

"People do frequently ask how should you get a Nobel Prize, and the laureates always advise you not to think about that, because that's not how to get a Nobel Prize," Smith laughs.

As for the laureates themselves, Smith thinks their inspiration simply comes from "the unknown - their inspiration is finding out."

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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