We would think winning a Nobel Prize is already exciting enough, but The Swedish Academy really knows how to keep its winners on their toes. Instead of a lengthy email or mailed letter, the academy insists on upholding the longstanding tradition of calling the winners minutes before the prize is announced.
Adam Smith, the editor of the Nobel Foundation's website, takes the time to call each recipient and personally tell them they have won the Nobel Prize. As you may imagine, these calls come at unexpected times (sometimes in the middle of the night) and in unexpected places (sometimes in the middle of a flight). Here are the craziest and most interesting ways people received that "magic call."
1. A legendary voicemail
What happens if you don't answer your phone when the Academy is calling you? You get a voicemail. Alice Munro, this year's Nobel Prize winner in Literature, just wasn't available to take their call at the time:
Now that's a voicemail worth listening to.
2. A 5 a.m. scare
Amartya Sen, an Indian expert on warfare, won the prize in Ecomonics in 1998. Perhaps due to his line of study, he thought something terrible had happened when he received the call at five in the morning:
"My first thought was something terrible must have happened, someone has turned ill, or something worse than that. [...] So I thanked him and said I needed a cup of coffee."
3. Sleeping through the phone call
In 2010, (before the Academy started leaving voicemails) Martin Chalfie received the call from Stockholm, but it was just way too early in the morning for him to answer. After all, he does live in New York City. An excerpt from Smith's second phone call to him:
Smith: "I read in the news wires that you did not actually receive a call from Stockholm this morning."
Chalfie: "I did not. Well, I did, but I didn't answer it because I slept through it."
Smith: "How did you actually found out that you had ...?"
Chalfie: "Ah. This is a sort of ridiculous situation, but sort of funny. I woke up at ten after six, and I realized that they must have given the Prize in Chemistry, so I simply said, "Okay, who's the schnook that got the Prize this time?" And so I opened up my laptop, and I got to the Nobel Prize site and I found out I was the schnook!"
4. Finding out on a flight across the world
Richard Ernst won the prize in Chemistry in 1991, and when the call came in, he was on a flight from Moscow to New York.
"The captain came to me and was telling me that I won the prize. So then I had to go to the cockpit and I was speaking with the radio and my family."
5. When the call interrupts important experimentation
Konstantin Novoselo was the 2010 winner in Physics and happened to be taking some serious measurements when Smith "bothered" him with the announcement:
Novoselo: "You're basically saying I should stop my experiments now?"
Smith: "I'm afraid so."
Novoselo: "Things are crazy right now. You are right."
6. Over a beer
Barry Marshall won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine after discovering that ulcers are, in fact, not caused by stress. We think it's safe to say he wasn't too stressed when he got the call. Marshall was drinking some beers with his colleague at the time. When asked if he was celebrating, Marshall responded carefully:
Well, we're not ... We're being very careful - we're just having one glass of beer at the moment. And I don't want to appear on television, intoxicated. Dr. Warren and I, we're very moderate in our activities and, usually, one beer is enough to keep us cheerful.
7. The "Oh Christ" moment
We don't think anyone can top 2007 winner for Literature Doris Lessing's authentic reaction to being awarded.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Marshall discovered that ulcers were caused by stress; he in fact discovered that they are not caused by stress.
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Marie Curie, née Sklodowska — Physics 1903, Chemistry 1911
Marie Curie, née Sklodowska (1867-1934) became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize when she was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics along with her husband Pierre Curie and Antoine Henri Becquerel "for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure." Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the first woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in the sciences and the first woman to win two Nobel Prizes — an achievement that no woman has yet to duplicate — when she was awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize for Chemistry "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements of radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."
Iréne Joliot-Curie — Chemistry 1935
Iréne Joliot-Curie (1897-1956) was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with her husband Frédéric Joliot, "in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements." Joliot-Curie was the daughter of two-time Nobel Prize laureate Marie Curie née Sklodowska and Nobel Prize laureate Pierre Curie.
Gerty Cori, née Radnitz — Physiology or Medicine 1947
Gerty Cori, née Radnitz was awarded one half of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori "for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen." The other half of the prize went to Bernando Alberto Houssay "for his discovery of the part played by the hormone of the anterior pituitary lobe in the metabolism of sugar."
Maria Goeppert Mayer - Physics 1963
Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972) shared half of the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics with J. Hans D. Jensen, "for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure." Eugene Paul Wigner received the other half of the prize "for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles."
Dorothy Hodgkin — Chemistry 1964
Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry"for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances."
Rosalyn Yalow — Physiology or Medicine 1977
Rosalyn Yalow (1921-2011) was awarded one half of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones." Andrew Schally and Roger Guillemin split the other half of the prize "for their discoveries concerning the peptide hormone production of the brain."
Barbara McClintock — Physiology or Medicine 1977
Barbara McClintock (b.1902) was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for her discovery of mobile genetic elements." McClintock is the only woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in the field of Physiology or Medicine.
Rita Levi-Montalcini — Physiology or Medicine 1986
Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Stanley Cohen "for their discoveries of growth factors."
Gertrude Elion — Physiology or Medicine 1988
Gertrude Elion (1918-1999) was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Sir James Black and George Hitchings "for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment."
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard — Physiology or Medicine 1995
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (b.1942) was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Edward Lewis and Eric Wieschaus "for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development."
Linda Buck — Physiology or Medicine 2004
Linda Buck (b. 1947) was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Richard Axel "for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system."
Françoise Barre-Sinoussi — Physiology or Medicine 2008
Françoise Barre-Sinoussi was awarded half of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Luc Montagnier "for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus." Harald zur Hausen won the other half of the prize "for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer."
Elizabeth Blackburn — Physiology or Medicine 2009
Elizabeth Blackburn (b.1948) was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was the first Noble Prize in the sciences awarded to more than one woman. The year 2009 was also the first time more than one woman was awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences -- Blackburn shared the Physiology or Medicine prize with Carol Greider, Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and Ada Yonath won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Carol Greider — Physiology or Medicine 2009
Carol Greider (b.1961) was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was the first Noble Prize in the sciences awarded to more than one woman. The year 2009 was also the first time more than one woman was awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences -- Greider shared the Physiology or Medicine prize with Elizabeth Blackburn, Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and Ada Yonath won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Elinor Ostrom — Economic Sciences 2009
Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) was awarded one half of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons." Oliver Williamson won the other half of the prize "for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm." The year 2009 was also the first time more than one woman was awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences. Other female prize winners that year were: Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider for Physiology or Medicine, and Ada Yonath for Chemistry.
Ada Yonath — Chemistry 2009
Ada Yonath (b. 1939) was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome." The year 2009 was also the first time more than one woman was awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences. Other female prize winners that year were: Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider for Physiology or Medicine, and Elinor Ostrom for Economic Sciences.