Nobel games

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Find out which countries are democracies and which ones are frauds!

The Nobel prize website is pretty cool; beyond having information about every laureate and prize ceremony, besides the compilation of facts (youngest and oldest winners, how many female laureates, etc), there’s also an entire page devoted to educational games. I just spent the last half hour trying to fight off bacteria as a macrophage, locate countries that claim to be democratic but aren’t, and take care of a diabetic dog. There’s also a Lord of the Flies game, a game about Pavlov’s dog which allows you to make a dog drool on demand, and a DNA-double helix game. Who knew learning could be so fun? I know what I’ll be doing the rest of the week…

Princes of peace

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When you look down the list of all Nobel Peace laureates you come across many of the most important names of the twentieth century: Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama (14th), Mother TeresaMartin Luther King, Jr. The notable exception is Mahatma Gandhi, who was nominated in five separate years and may well have won if not for his tragic assassination–Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously unless the recipient dies after the prize is already announced (a very rare occurrence, but one that did indeed happen this year).

In the 110 years the Nobel prizes have been awarded, there have been twenty years in which the Peace prize was not given to anyone. The longest droughts were from 1914-1918 and 1939-1943, fittingly corresponding with World Wars I and II. (Note: Stalin was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to end WWII; Hitler and Mussolini were both nominated once). It would seem perhaps overly ironic and inappropriate to award someone for peace efforts during such war torn eras, yet isn’t that when we need messages of peace the most? The acceptance speeches of Nobel Peace laureates are some of the most wonderful and inspiring words to read and listen to. Following is the audio from MLK Jr’s speech. Check out the rest at the Nobel prize website.

The wisdom of Nobel laureates

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Many years ago, for a high school literature course, I read several Nobel prize acceptance speeches. Some of the words were so familiar, like Faulkner’s assertion: I decline to accept the end of man. Much great wisdom has been imparted in these speeches about how to work, how to live, and what to live for. Here is just a sampling of some great Nobel lines:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” –Samuel Beckett, Literature, 1969

“All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.”  –William Faulkner, Literature, 1949

“The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.” –Fridtjof Nansen, Peace, 1922

“Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men and women are the oppressed who on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to beta the responsibilities and uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society.” –Aung San Suu Kyi, Peace, 1991

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” –Winston Churchill, Literature, 1953

“Nothing is going to happen unless you work with your life’s blood.” –Riccardo Giacconi, Physics, 2002

“Evil is not the norm. Injustice is not the norm. Poverty is not the norm. War is not the norm…The norm is goodness. The norm is compassion. The norm is gentleness.” –Desmond Tutu, Peace, 1984

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” –Albert Einstein, Physics, 1921

“Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.” –Jean-Paul Sartre, Literature, 1964

“When you are in the last ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.” –Samuel Beckett, Literature, 1969

And, if you need more cinematic wisdom, here is “John Nash” giving his speech (Russell Crowe certainly is good at giving speeches):

How to be Nobel prize winner

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What you’ll need: a great mind, a good speechwriter

Songlist: Peace Train by Cat Stevens, The Scientist by Coldplay

Further reading: The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize: Advice for Young Scientists

On Thursday morning my dad texted me to say “Congratulations. Please contact the Nobel Prize Committee immediately.” Now, my dad has texted me all of twice before in my life so this was a little suspect. Granted, this was the same guy who always rushed into our rooms on the morning of April 1st to yell “snow day!” so I knew I couldn’t completely trust him. However, as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes I saw that someone who doesn’t often call me had left a message at 8:30 that morning. For the briefest of moments I thought, “Is she calling to congratulate me, too?”

But alas, I did not win a Nobel prize this year. I’m not too young–when Lawrence Bragg was 25 he shared the prize in physics with his father–but I’d say my age is a disadvantage. As is my gender: out of 549 Nobel prizes awarded, only 40 have gone to women. The biggest disadvantage though, is that I haven’t done anything of note in the fields of physics, chemistry, economics, medicine, literature, or peace.

Past peace winners

I like to think of myself as a pretty peaceful person. I do yoga a lot and try not to talk behind other people’s backs. My mom says that’s not enough, though. The three women who share this year’s prize were awarded “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The first is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the first elected female president in Africa, and my commencement speaker. Like her, the second honoree, Leymah Gbowee, helped to bring peace to Liberia, while the third woman Tawakkul Karman has been a leading voice for peace in Yemen. I think I’m going to have to step up my game.

My hopes are pretty dismal in the scientific fields. This year,  Bruce A. Beutler and Jules A. Hoffmann were awarded one half of the prize in medicine “for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity” while the other half went to Ralph M. Steinman “for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity.” Dan Shechtman won the prize in chemistry for discovering quasicrystals. Who knew they could be quasi? Meanwhile, Saul PerlmutterBrian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess were awarded the prize in physics “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.” I don’t even know what the hell that means. No, I think I would have had to get a head start in one of these fields if I were to ever be in contention. 

Past literature winners

I’d say my best hope is in literature. I majored in creative writing, after all. This year’s winner Tomas Tranströmer is an 80-year-old Swedish poet, reinforcing the biases of the prize committee. It helps if you’re old and it helps if you’re not American. I’ve got a long ways to go. I think I’ll start by getting citizenship from another country, maybe one of those obscure countries like Kiribati or Djibouti. A sex change may not be necessary–3 of the past 10 Laureates were women–but it wouldn’t hurt (metaphorically). Somewhere along the line I also have to write a large body of meaningful work that expresses something not previously expressed in a unique way. I’m pretty sure that’s the easy part. If for some reason I can’t do that, though, I’ll just more peaceful. This plan is good as gold.