Waking up the President of the United States of America in the middle of the night isn’t really something you do — even if you are the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. However, in 2009 that’s exactly what they did when Barack Obama was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Obama his press secretary told him that he had won and then his daughter confirmed the news by saying, “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday.” Bo is their dog!
The awarding institutions for the Nobel Prizes make the ‘magic call’ at about 12pm Central European Time and all this week newly appointed Laureates have been woken up or surprised with that call.
One of this year’s Laureates for the Prize in Physics, Shuji Nakamura lives in California and said he was fast asleep when he got the phone call: “I was so happy. And I was so surprised!” Nakamura was awarded the prize, along with Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, for inventing blue LEDs. The Prize for Medicine this year probably didn’t wake anyone up (the awardees are all in Europe) but was no less exciting. It was awarded to John O’Keefe, who said “I’m over the moon actually” (actually?!), and May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser who met as postdocs in O’Keefe’s lab and went on to marry. The Moser’s are the fifth married couple to share a Nobel prize and this one was for discovering a group of cells that ‘constitute a positioning system in the brain’, kind of like an internal GPS.
Wherever you live in the world, that phone call can come rather unexpectedly.
Apparently Chris Sims, who was the 2011 Economic Laureate was convinced that he was the victim of a prank call. His wife changed his mind when she suggested that the Swedish accent was too good to be fake. One of 2012’s Chemistry Prize winners, Robert Lefkowitz, had to be elbowed awake by his wife, and in 2007 Doris Lessing found out that she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature when she found a rabble of journalists outside her home upon returning from the shops!