As predictions emerge for this year’s Nobel prizes, I couldn’t help but wonder what it’s like for the recipients. Is the buildup to the prize just buzz, or do the potential laureates toss and turn, unable to sleep the night before? How do people balance their real hopes against their desire to not be that scientist, the one who waits by the phone for a call from Stockholm that never comes?
For perspective on what getting a Nobel is like, I got in touch with local laureates, who described their experiences by e-mail. Craig Mello, a biologist a the University of Massachusetts Medical School who shared the 2006 medicine prize, got the call while he was up checking his daughter’s blood sugar. Jack Szostak, a biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who shared the 2009 medicine prize, said that he thought the chances of winning were slim, so he didn’t do anything special the night before. Frank Wilczek, the MIT scientist who shared the 2004 physics prize, sent an account of the night that he wrote when the memory was fresh: