Simon Johnson –
Spare a thought for this year’s Nobel Prize winners. Gone are the ball gowns, white tie and tails, concerts, banquets and adulation that come with arguably the world’s most coveted awards.
With the coronavirus pandemic tearing through Europe, celebrations this year will be modest and remote. Instead of wining and dining in Stockholm and Oslo later this month, in many cases winners will receive their award in their home country at an agreed venue from a Swedish diplomat.
The number of guests will depend on local restrictions, and plans are still subject to change given the unpredictability of the virus.
“We… will make sure that the laureates receive their medals and diplomas in one way or the other, if the situation changes’’, said Rebecka Oxelstrom, spokeswoman for the Nobel Foundation, which overseas the prizes.
The low-key celebrations will matter to some laureates more than others. Reinhard Genzel, the German astrophysicist who shared the physics prize this year with Britain’s Roger Penrose and American Andrea Ghez for discoveries about black holes, was not losing too much sleep.
“I’m not a party boy, anyhow’’, he said. “Of course I would have preferred to have this highest point of my research career to be celebrated in Stockholm, mainly also to celebrate with my family and my core science team,” he added. “Yet, given the global situation, the Nobel Committee did exactly the right thing.”
Sweden’s Nobel Foundation, which handles Nobel Prizes apart from the peace award which is administered by the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, has been working out the logistics of how to honour winners around the world. This year’s ceremonies will be short, with medals and diplomas laid out on a table. They take place on December 7 and 8.
“Gloves will be used when unpacking the medal and diploma’’, Oxelstrom said. Venues will vary. Genzel, for example, said he will receive his medal in the Bavarian State Chancellery in Munich, while others will be handed out at Swedish diplomatic residences or scientific institutes.
Literature winner Louise Gluck and medicine laureate Michael Houghton will receive their diplomas and medals in their homes. The traditional lectures will be streamed next week on the Nobel organisation’s website, as will a concert from the Stockholm Concert Hall, without an audience, on December 8, two days before the main event.
On Thursday, December 10, the Swedish king gives a digital welcome as part of the main prize giving, which will include footage of the individuals receiving their awards. It will be beamed from Stockholm City Hall to Nobel Prize digital channels. — Reuters