As the world’s eyes turn to Sweden today, Alfred Nobel Day, it is fitting that we take time to honor those who have conferred what he called the “greatest benefit on mankind.” It is even more important this year that we celebrate the men and women who have received Nobel Prizes. The virus may have forced the annual ceremony to become virtual, but their achievements are perhaps more real, more meaningful than ever.
2020 has been a year of change. This year has forced each of us to consider the invaluable and crucial role that science and discovery play in all of our lives. The wise among us always knew their crucial importance but, for most of us, it was easy to forget as we went about our day-to-day existence how dependent we are upon scientists and researchers for so much that we hold dear. That is no longer true. Science has, once again, become, as Louis Pasteur once said, “the torch that lights the world.” It has, in fact, become normal all over the globe to scan the news daily to learn if any progress has been made in one scientific undertaking in particular – the search for a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19.
Happily, that news of late has been very promising. The unprecedented international effort by scientists and researchers has led to announcements in recent weeks that effective vaccines may be approved for use very soon, some of which are the proud achievements of U.S. and Swedish companies.
While no specific Nobel Prizes will be awarded today for immunology or epidemiology, there are prizes for physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine. All three disciplines are playing a role in confronting COVID. This is no slight towards the other Laureates. In addressing the broader impact of the pandemic, there is no question that the economic sciences – another prize established by the Swedish Riksbank – will play a crucial role. The prize fields of the two remaining Nobels – literature and peace – are also not far from our minds as we struggle as human beings to come terms with this year’s challenges. Who knows what masterful written works will be forged in the crucible of our current crisis? Peace too is our common calling if we are to confront this challenge successfully. To quote Pasteur again, “It is surmounting difficulties that makes heroes.”
This year, the Nobel Committee has given eight Americans the Nobel Prize, a prize which recognizes greatness and expresses a profound optimism about humanity and our prospects for improvement. As the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, I would usually have the rare privilege of hosting those distinguished Americans and their families for a reception in the Ambassador’s residence. Unfortunately, that is not possible this year. The Laureates are deeply missed, and I very much hope they will have the opportunity in the future to come to Stockholm.
We are very fortunate as Americans that so many of our scientists, researchers, and authors have been honored by the Nobel Committee over the years. It reminds us that, despite our relatively short history as a country, we have a tradition of discovery, exploration, science, and the search for knowledge. The Nobel Prize is a worthy symbol that encompasses those characteristics as well as resourcefulness and innovation, and it highlights the spirit of collaboration and dedication necessary to achieve breakthroughs.
I wish that we could celebrate this day together, but to the U.S. Nobel Laureates directly, I would like to say, on behalf of the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Department of State, and the American people, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on winning the Nobel Prize and the collective thanks of a grateful watching world.