Saturday, October 6, 2007

Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden

The Swedish Academy in the Old Town of Stockholm is home to the Nobel Museum, which celebrates the distinguished scientists and peacemakers who have won prizes in the five areas of Physics, Chemistry, Biology/Medicine, Literature, and Peace.

The museum is relatively small and quite doable. An entry exhibition area displays the history of the prize, while two amphitheaters show looping 3-4 minute videos of the lives of various prize winners and how they came to their creative ideas that led to their prize.

Overhead is a constantly moving display of all the Nobel Prize winners over the years.

A changing exhibit area had an exhibition of black and white photos called “Images of War and Peace,” with a number of poignant scenes from the two world wars.

An adjacent room had players and headphones for listening to audio clips of selected acceptance speeches and toasts made at award dinners.

Another room was devoted to the life and “The Famous Will” of Alfred Nobel, and a “cabinet of creativity” displayed a set of objects that inspired various creative ideas leading to prizes.

Being a Cornellian, I was excited to see two familiar objects in this cabinet: first, a Cornell dining plate, representing Richard Feynman’s early experience at the university during which he watched a student spinning a plate on his finger at one of the dining halls and observed a relationship between the wobble-frequency and the angular velocity that eventually led to his electron-spin theory and the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Also in this curio cabinet was a ear of corn, which formed the subject of Barbara McClintock’s research at Cornell that led to her Nobel prize in genetics. Both were among the dozen or so prize winners featured for their creativity in the dozen or so short videos that cycle in the amphitheaters.

The video clips were interesting in that they gave unusually candid insights into the lives and minds of several prize winners. However, in most cases these films would probably not inspire someone sitting on the career fence trying to decide whether to make a career in science. For example, an interview with Schroedinger revealed that the inspiration and equations that led to his famous wave equation were developed during a family vacation in Europe. When asked about this period of intense creativity, he indicated that he had to wear ear plugs because the talking and carrying on of his family had made it too difficult for him to concentrate on his work.

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