This is an article from the spring 2015 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.

What's it really like to be at a Nobel Prize ceremony?

Chelsea Wood, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows, had the chance to attend the ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. (The Peace Prize is awarded at another event in Oslo, Norway.) Wood was on hand to receive a different award, the Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists, for her research on the ecology of infectious diseases.

“They purposely scheduled our visit to Stockholm during Nobel week, so we could join in some of the Nobel activities,” Wood says. “I had no idea how much the awards take over all of Stockholm! They happen right in the center of the city. There are luxury cars bringing laureates in and out as they attend all sorts of events during the week.

“The ceremony is in this big, beautiful, ornate hall,” Wood says. “It was a totally opulent affair, highly regimented and choreographed. The ceremony of the ceremony made it surreal. The royal family was sitting off to the right, decked out in white tie and big, fluffy, tulle ball gowns. I don’t want to focus on the fashion of the one female laureate, but May- Britt Moser, who helped discover ‘grid cells’ in the brain that encode spatial memory, wore a custom-made dress with a decorative pattern of crystals in the shape of those grid cells, which was awesome.”

Wood was in the audience for the Nobel Prize ceremony, which recognized scientists like May-Britt Moser (above, on left) and scientific developments such as single-molecule microscopy techniques. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Wood was thrilled just to be close to Nobel laureates at an earlier reception, but a bigger highlight of her trip was having lunch with some of them. “It was fancy—white tablecloth, china plates with the gold Nobel seal, gold-plated silverware. To my left was Torsten Wiesel, a laureate from years back. And on my right: Edvard Moser, one of this year’s recipients. Moser talked about his upbringing in Norway, how he and May-Britt hit upon the neuroscience path, and the discovery that eventually netted them the Nobel Prize.

“It was wonderful to get to know the two of them as humans, and not just as these rarefied recipients of science’s greatest prize.

“The Nobel ceremony itself was extremely formal, but I think the personalities of the people who received the award came out at different points, like at the lunch. May-Britt is the person who sticks in my mind the most, because she is not a staid and stuffy academic. She’s an effusive, enthusiastic speaker.”

It took a while for the whole experience to sink in, Wood says.

“I didn’t expect to be so moved by the Nobel ceremony. It made me so happy that there’s an institution in the world that encourages and rewards scientists who work for the betterment of humankind.”


See Chelsea Wood's Science & SciLifeLab Prize-winning essay: