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Nobel Prize Recipients Recognized at House of Sweden

By David Jahng

The Embassy of Sweden welcomed four of the six 2018 Nobel Prize winners from America to the House of Sweden for a congratulatory symposium on Nov 13.

“It is very fitting that we celebrate the laureates’ tremendous accomplishments at the House of Sweden,” said Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter. “Our country has a longstanding tradition of vigorous research and science, innovations and industries.”

James Allison, Paul Romer, Frances Arnold and George Smith presented their findings that won them each a Nobel Prize.

James Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for a breakthrough in cancer therapy. Their discovery of the inhibition of negate immune regulation has led to a new class of drugs that have produced remarkable results in treating lung and renal cancer, as well as lymphoma and melanoma. It marks the first time a development in cancer therapy has received a Nobel Prize.

“The drugs are already dramatically changing outcomes for patients and have the potential to save more cancer patients than ever,” said Olofsdotter.

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Nobel Laureates Frances Arnold, James Allison, George Smith and Paul Romer join Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter at a reception commemorating the 2018 Nobel Prize winners. Photo: Tomas Enqvist/Embassy of Sweden

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was split between Frances Arnold along with George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter. Arnold created enzymes unseen in nature that have the ability to cut out the use of many toxins in biofuel and pharmaceuticals. Smith and Winter developed a laboratory technique known as the phage display that enhances the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

“I have enjoyed, for the last 30 years, recombining DNA, mutating DNA in the test tube, breeding molecules like you breed cats and dogs,” said Arnold. “We can create the catalysts that biology didn’t care about but that humans might be able to use to move into a much more sustainable future. So that’s what I do. I push nature.”

He added that, “Evolution teaches you that if you’re not diverse, you go extinct.

Olofsdotter noted that collaboration is key to any scientific breakthrough. “It is clearer than ever how any single piece of research in science is due to the efforts of many people working together,” she said.

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Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter welcomes guests to dinner. Photo: Tomas Enqvist/Embassy of Sweden

Paul Romer and William Nordhaus won the Nobel in economics for integrating climate change and technological innovations, respectively, into long-run macroeconomic analysis. Romer’s studies laid the foundation for endogenous growth theory, which explains how ideas are different to other goods and require specific conditions to thrive in a market. This jumpstarted new research into regulations and policies that open the door to new ideas and long-term prosperity.

“When you realize that value comes from discovering ways to take the stuff we have and turn it into something we value much more, and then you start to think about analogies like protein sequences or chemical formulas, you realize that there is this just incomprehensibly large set of things yet to be discovered. Now, all of a sudden, it’s good to be part of a billion people instead of a million; it’s good to be a part of a world with 10 billion instead of 1 billion because there are more people who will eventually go out and discover those things. And once somebody finds it anywhere, we can all benefit from it,” Romer said. “I’ve always been at risk of being drummed out of the economics profession because I’m so optimistic. But I just can’t help it. It’s just what the facts tell me.”

The prize winners stressed that success is a matter of trial and error.

“I think that’s universal amongst all scientists. You make a hypothesis that can explain something and if you’re right every time, it means you’re not asking the right questions,” said Allison. “It’s when you’re wrong that you know you’re making progress.”

After the presentation, the recipients answered questions ranging from climate change and evolutionary theories to how they recharge their mental batteries after work. The laureates and their spouses then had lunch with Olofsdotter, a private tour of the “Nordic Impressions” exhibition at the Phillips Collection, and dinner at the House of Sweden.

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Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, coach Kathy Kemper of the Institute for Education and European Union Ambassador David O’Sullivan. Photo: Tomas Enqvist/Embassy of Sweden

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish scientist, inventor and entrepreneur who left much of his wealth to establish the esteemed prize. The prize has been given to men and women for successes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace since 1901.

Sweden is the second-most innovative country in the world, according to the World Economic Forum, and has one of the 10 most competitive economies in international studies. It has earned a reputation in Europe as a tech startup hub, with billion-dollar tech companies such as Skype, Spotify, Minecraft and Candy Crush Saga originating in the country.

In all, 12 laureates were awarded a Nobel in 2018. In addition to Allison, Honjo, Arnold, Smith, Winter, Romer and Nordhaus, the prize recipients included Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland (physics), as well as Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for the Nobel Peace Prize (also see “Two Women’s Rights Advocates Show Enduring Importance of Nobel Peace Prize” in the December 2018 issue).

The laureates were fêted in Stockholm at a ceremony with the king and queen of Sweden on Dec. 10. For more information on the Embassy of Sweden’s exhibits and events, visit www.houseofsweden.com.


David Jahng is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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