Looking to Stockholm and Oslo: What answers do Nobel Prize winners find?

Nobel Prize week begins on Monday and the global situation has seldom been as tense as it is now.

Looking to Stockholm and Oslo: What answers do Nobel Prize winners find?

Nobel Prize week begins on Monday and the global situation has seldom been as tense as it is now. Pandemic, climate crisis, war in Ukraine are crying out for scientific solutions for the benefit of mankind, as the founder Alfred Nobel once put it.

Serious crises seem to be more omnipresent in this year's Nobel Prize season than ever before. When the announcements of the world's most prestigious awards are heralded on Monday with the prize in the medicine category, the world is simultaneously looking for support and hope. A Nobel Prize in Medicine after a two-and-a-half-year pandemic, more scientific Nobel Prizes in times of the climate crisis, a Nobel Peace Prize while Russia is at war in Ukraine, and an economic award while people are struggling with inflation and soaring energy prices: the Nobel Prizes are found every year 2022 in a world that is in a real permanent state of crises and conflicts.

With this impression, scientists, the literary world, peacemakers and the assembled world public are now looking to Stockholm and Oslo for a week. From Monday to Wednesday, the winners in the scientific categories medicine, physics and chemistry will be announced first, followed by the awards in literature and peace. The economic sciences then conclude this year's Nobel round on the following Monday. The awards are again associated with prize money of ten million Swedish crowns (around 920,000 euros) per category.

What would prize founder and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) think of the situation the world is in 126 years after his death? The director of the Nobel Foundation, Vidar Helgesen, has a suspicion. "I think he would probably be all the more convinced that the importance of science, critical scientific thinking, the search for truth, the importance of international cooperation and the pursuit of peaceful resolutions to conflicts are more important than ever," he says . "The values ​​underlying the various Nobel Prizes are truly more relevant than ever in today's world."

At the same time, one might think that these crises will also have an impact on the selection of the award winners. With a view to the corona pandemic, many had already speculated last year that the Nobel Prize in Medicine would go to the developers of the mRNA vaccines - in the end it went to the discoverers of cell receptors that people use to perceive temperature and touch. "The Nobel committees base their deliberations on Alfred Nobel's will and determine who has contributed the most to the benefit of mankind over the past year or years. Despite all the crises, that remains the main guiding principle for their actions," explains Helgesen.

But of course research, literature and last but not least peace efforts reflect the reality of the respective time, as was shown by last year's Nobel Prize in Physics for climate science led by Klaus Hasselmann from Hamburg. "It was obviously a sign of the times," says Helgesen. Last year, two Germans were among the prizewinners: Hasselmann in physics and Benjamin List in chemistry. At the time, General Secretary Göran Hansson announced their names at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. At the turn of the year, he was succeeded by the biologist Hans Ellegren, giving him the honor of announcing the prizewinners in physics and chemistry for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. "I'm so excited to help bring science to the fore," he says of the new role. "The spotlight is on us."

Looking at the world's current problems, Ellegren emphasizes that the scientific awards went to the most important scientific achievements of mankind - often independent of current challenges. "It's also important to maintain the integrity of the award and not be swayed by conversations about what's currently on the agenda." Helgesen also considers the Nobel Prizes to be an important source of inspiration for younger people in times like these. "If you're a young person today looking for hope and inspiration that the world can be changed, the Nobel Prizes and Nobel Laureates are a fantastic symbol and real-life example of how people can actually change the course of history ", he says. "This is a message of hope and inspiration that is really needed today."

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