Nobel lecturers charmed a crowd

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Laughter, applause and rave reviews followed the Nobel lectures delivered by cheerful Norwegian researcher May-Britt Moser and her two co-winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology in Stockholm on Sunday. The rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, where the Mosers have worked for years, was proud and delighted when it was all over.

John O'Keefe (left), a British-American neuroscientist, and Norwegians May-Britt and Edvard Moser are sharing this year's Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. They're in Stockholm this week for several days of formal Nobel events and ceremonies. PHOTO: NTNU/Gunnar K Hansen

John O’Keefe (left), a British-American neuroscientist, and Norwegian researchers May-Britt and Edvard Moser are sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. They’re in Stockholm this week for several days of formal Nobel events and ceremonies. PHOTO: NTNU/Gunnar K Hansen

“We were all enjoying the lectures,” NTNU Rector Gunnar Bovim told Norwegian Broadcasting (NTNU). “Combining exact science and such a high degree of professional quality with humour and an untraditional delivery was very special.”

Moser, her husband and research partner Edvard Moser and their longtime mentor John O’Keefe each delivered a Nobel Lecture demanded of Nobel Laureates to explain what they did to win the prize. “We got to hear three good lectures, first from John O’Keefe, who stressed the historic development of their work,” Bovim said. “Then came our two fantastic Nobel Prize winners.”

Edvard Moser explained how the couple, who worked with the elder O’Keefe as they started their ground-breaking research, has contributed towards gaining knowledge into how the human brain determines location and physical orientation. Their work has been compared to discovering the brain’s own internal global positioning system (GPS), and it may lead to new breakthroughs into demystifying Alzheimer’s disease. The couple has mostly worked from their labs at NTNU and the Kavli Institute, while Edvard Moser has said that the three months he spent working with O’Keefe at his lab in 1996 were the among the most educational of his life.

May-Britt Moser of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, delivering her humourous and entertaining Nobel Lecture in Stockholm on Sunday. PHOTO: NTNU/Gunnar K Hansen

May-Britt Moser of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, delivering her humourous and unconventional Nobel Lecture in Stockholm on Sunday. PHOTO: NTNU/Gunnar K Hansen

Commentators said that May-Britt Moser’s presentation on Sunday in particular was one that the audience of more than 1,000 in the Aula Medica at the Karolinska Institute wouldn’t likely forget. Millions of viewers could also follow all the lectures live on the Internet around the world.

Using photos, illustrations, music and humour, May-Britt Moser charmed her audience not least by sharing a video of one of her mice who tries and tries to safely store a cracker he’d retrieved by hopping up on a shelf. The mouse hopped and hopped, to no avail. “An ordinary day in the lab,” Moser joked. But then the mouse finally succeeded, to applause from the audience, and Moser could prove her point that science can make the impossible possible.

“She chose a relaxed style, using videos, music and activating the audience,” Bovim noted. “It was an unconventional Nobel lecture, and there were surely some eyebrows raised, but we really enjoyed it. It was fun and enlightening and put (the research) into perspective.”

The Mosers are otherwise known for their informality, like here at a congratulatory reception in Trondheim, after they won the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology in October. PHOTO: NTNU/Nancy Bazilchuk

The Mosers are otherwise known for their informality, like here at a congratulatory reception in Trondheim after they won the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology in October. PHOTO: NTNU/Nancy Bazilchuk

According to Bovim, “the Swedes can tend to be more formal than we (Norwegians) are, so I don’t think they’re used to such unconventional presentations, but I’ve received only positive reaction.” Around 50 colleagues from NTNU in Trondheim were in the audience, along with the couple’s two teenage daughters. “They have worked so hard for this,” Ailin Marlene Moser, age 19, told news bureau NTB. “I almost look forward to all this being over, so mamma and pappa can relax.”

Both of the Mosers are known for their informality, and had earlier joked about how they’d need to dress up and get help to meet this week’s tightly packed and highly formal program of Nobel Prize events in Stockholm. May-Britt Moser has been cautioned, for example, that she’s not supposed to shout with glee or wave her arms, as she’s prone to doing, when she receives her Nobel prize.

The couple, along with O’Keefe, will receive their prizes along with all the other Nobel winners on December 10 (Wednesday), the anniversary of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s death. They’ll also take part in a panel discussion at the Norwegian Embassy in Stockholm on Monday, attend a reception and concert Monday evening, be interviewed at the Nobel Week Dialogue in Stockholm’s conference center, and attend another major reception Tuesday evening before being driven in limousines on Wednesday from their suite at the Grand Hotel to the prize ceremony, a highly formal affair attended by the entire Swedish royal family. That will be followed by the traditional formal banquet in the Stockholm City Hall.

The week of Nobel events will continue with their appearance on the BBC’s and SVT’s program “Nobel Minds” and another banquet at the Royal Palace on Thursday and the Nobel Forum and a reception with Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi on Friday. They’ll also deliver another lecture at the Uppsala Biomedical Centre and have lunch at Uppsala Palace on Saturday before they fly out from Arlanda later that day.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund