Nobel Minds, 2014
It was a sublime morning. Tired of playing peek-a-boo through the clouds all winter, the Sun in all its glory decided to make a rare appearance. The green grass glistened, and bright sunlight reflected on the dewy tree leaves. A tickling cool breeze reminded us that this is indeed a December morning in a Nordic country, and that we need to savor every second of this brilliant weather before it’s all gloomy and dark again.
“This is gonna be the best day EVER!” I thought. It felt like my sheer excitement is painting everything around me with the color ‘happy’. It was the morning of December 11th, the day I joined 90 other students from all over Sweden to be in the audience of the television show “Nobel Minds”. Produced and broadcasted jointly by the BBC and Swedish Television, Nobel Minds hosts the Nobel laureates of the year in a one-hour program, and the great minds of our day get to talk about their ground-breaking research and their hopes and dreams for the future of humanity (and they also share a laugh or two, they’re usually incredibly witty 🙂
Cool, huh? You see, to me it was more than just ‘cool’. Since the tender age of 8, my father would gather me and my brother, and tell us stories about the scientists who won the Nobel Prize. He believed that scientists are the real role models that youngsters should look up to. In 1999, when the Egyptian-American Dr. Ahmed Zewail won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in Femtochemistry, my father convinced my primary school to have a week-long, Zewail-themed event where students get to learn about the first Arab-born scientist to win the highest scientific accolade. Appreciating the Nobel Prize – and maybe even going totally berserk over it – runs in the family, I can’t help it.
So, needless to say, I was extremely excited when I was offered the opportunity to be a member of the audience. When the day arrived, I could barely contain myself. I jumped down the stairs in my building because the elevator isn’t “fast enough”. I complained to my grim-faced neighbor in the subway because the train was “taking forever” to reach the central station. I arrived at the Stockholm Concert Hall (a fascinating building, by the way. Remind me to talk about it later) an hour and a half BEFORE they were supposed to start taping, and I just stood there, with my camera at hand like a paparazzi, waiting for the laureates to come in their armored black limousines (well, that’s what I thought Nobel laureates use for their daily commute!).
Have you ever seen footage of teenagers (and sometimes adults, sadly) going nuts over celebrities, screaming at the top of their lungs until they faint? I admit I’ve always looked at those with a hint of condescension, as in “look at those idiots! I’ll never do that!” But on December 11, when the Nobel laureates walked in that chamber, I was the one having the “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” moment. My legs started trembling, and I started rambling. I was star-struck. I had to hear a scolding “pull yourself together, man” from my next seat neighbor to apply some self-control.
The Mosers (Dr. May-Britt and her husband and research partner Dr. Edvard) were the first to step into the room, followed shortly by Dr. Betzik (US, Chemistry), Dr. Hell (Germany, Chemistry), Dr. Moerner (US, Chemistry), Dr. Amano (Japan, Physics), Dr. Nakamura (Japan/US, physics) and Dr. Tirole (France, Economics). From my seat in the first row, Dr. Betzik was only a few inches away. I was busy boring the living hell out of my neighbor with some “fun facts” about the Nobel Prize and the estimated combined IQ of this year’s laureates, when a young man – couldn’t be older than 15 – asked me if the seat on my left was taken. “Not at all, go ahead” I said, slightly wondering what a teenager with a North American accent is doing here. That mystery unraveled quickly when Dr. Betzik turned and said to the young man: “hey son, doing OK?” Not only that I was a few inches away from a living, breathing Nobel laureate, I was actually sitting right next to his son!
The cameras started rolling, and the debate commenced. The laureates were insightful (duh), convivial, funny and have an amazing grasp on how to bring down their ground breaking achievements to the level of the common man. From Dr. Mary-Britt Moser’s rendition of the little celebratory dance she did when she received the news that she won the Nobel Prize, to Dr. Betzik’s amazing life story and his tips to budding scientists. Dr. Nakamura and Dr. Amano’s dynamic duo transcended Physics to comedy, as their hilarious remarks made the audience burst into laughter so many times.
Every patriotic fiber in my body gave a standing ovation to the hostess and presenter of the program, Zeinab Badawi. The ravishing, oxford-educated BBC presenter was born in Sudan, before moving to the United Kingdom. Her mellifluous yet commanding voice was the conducting baton that set the rhythm for the entire event.
My gratitude to the SI Network for Future Global Leaders for giving me – among other scholars – the opportunity to attend this event. This is one of a million beautiful things that you get to do/see/attend in Stockholm, the beating cultural heart of Scandinavia (and I dare say all Europe).
(Cover Photo: With Dr. Stefan Hell, Chemistry laureate. Below: with Zeinab Badawi. Photos Taken by Muhammad Tabish)