12/08/2013 07:31 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2014

Washington Sends Nobel Laureates Off to Sweden in Style

Our nation's capital had the honor of feting the nine American Nobel Laureates before they headed to Oslo for the official celebration. Medicine Nobels: James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, Thomas C. Südhof, Chemistry Nobels: Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, Arieh Warshel. Economic Nobels: Eugene F. Fama. Lars Peter Hansen, Robert J. Shiller. Nobels everywhere! The Laureates and their families gathered to meet with President Obama in The Oval Office, followed by a symposium at The House of Sweden and an elegant black tie dinner hosted by the Swedish Ambassador, H.E. Björn Lyrvall, and the Norwegian Ambassador, H.E. Kåre R. Aas at the stately Swedish Residence.


University of Southern California, Chemistry Nobel Laureate, Dr . Arieh Warshel and USC parent Kathy Kemper at Swedish Embassy dinner celebrating U.S. 2013 Nobel Laureates in Washington D.C.

The symposium had a lighthearted vibe, and highlighted that the Laureates don't just dedicate their entire careers to furthering our understandings of some of the most arcane scientific questions, but they also have fun along the way. As the University of Southern California's Professor Arich Warshel, a recipient of this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry, aptly put it, "The thing that makes me most excited is not to find a cure, but to understand how things are working," Even when asked about the impact of his work on other fields, Warshel shrugs modestly. "I was mainly just curious. What counts is that we have enormous fun solving problems that tell us how nature works." Dr. Warshel has been at USC for over four decades and still teaches an undergraduate chemistry class. USC President C.L. Max Nikias told me, "Warshel is a beloved teacher and mentor to our students."

However, when the conversation turned to the future of science in America, there were no jokes to be made. All nine of the 2013 American Nobel Laureates voiced their concerns over the decline (in real terms) of funding for scientific research in the U.S., and there was consensus among the Laureates that this will have an impact on America's competitiveness. They spoke of the shutdown and sequester being a disaster for the funding mechanisms for the scientific community. Professor Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, noted that even though the United States higher education institutions attracts a lot of talented young scientists from other countries, many of these young scientists are now choosing to return to their home countries where there is growth in investments in research and development. Professor Rothman of Yale University added that he doubts that he would be able to find funding to conduct the research that he did in the first five years of his career, which ultimately led him to where he is today, if he was to start his career now.

The United States has a long history of immigrants winning Nobel prizes. Twenty-five percent of its 350 recipients have been immigrants. While the number this year (four out of nine) is an outlier, it is not that shocking compared to other recent years (5 out of 11 in 2009). Twenty-two percent of Nobel laureates from the United Kingdom (the country with the second most laureates) have been immigrants. This year's Laureates agreed how important immigration is, when such a large percentage of Nobel laureates are immigrants.


Senator Ed Markey, (D-Massachusetts) with Economics Nobel Dr. Eugene F. Fama from Boston, Massachusetts

After the thought-provoking symposium, the Nobel Laureates and families headed back to 'clean up' for "The OSCARS" of Washington! H.E. Björn Lyrvall, Mrs. Madeleine Lyrvall and H.E. Kåre Aas received the Nobel luminaries as well as Janet Yellen, soon to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Secretaries, Members of Congress, senior White House staff, philanthropists and opinion leaders, in the magnificent Grand Salon. Once again Nobels were everywhere and there was a lively proud energy in the room! Swedish Chef Frida Johansson and Norwegian Chef Sindre Risvoll educated the guests on the extradinaroy menu they collaborated on for the evening.

Much toasting of "skål" continued and DC's OSCAR evening carried on!

Photos courtesy of the Institute for Education.