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Words from the Editor: Science for the sake of science

Malin Otmani

The Nobel Prize is the most prestigious, most well-known and most reputable award in the entire world.

Probably many factors lie behind its greatness; it has been awarded since 1901, the Swedish Royal family participate in the Nobel week, and there are several unique traditions, including the usually very early phone call to the winner, flowers shipped to Stockholm from San Remo, Italy, where Alfred Nobel spent his last years, and a very famous after-party after the official Nobel Banquet. And not least, the award has been given to very exceptional scientists, including Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.

Although the award honors great discoveries that benefit mankind, I think it is equally important that it honors science in general and scientists, and for that matter, the whole scientific community (a Nobel discovery is usually a team effort with many researchers involved). This is something that is especially important to remember when bad publicity has damaged the Nobel Prize reputation.

Three of the 2018 Nobel Prizes have connections to life sciences, giving us the opportunity to learn more about immune checkpoint therapy, optical tweezers, chirped pulse amplification, directed evolution of enzymes and phage display. We have also had the privilege to speak to eight Laureates, taking part in the lives and careers of eight different scientists.
A common characteristic among them is that they did not set out to find what they did, or even less, win a Nobel Prize. Instead they have stayed true to what they wanted to explore and have focused simply on doing science. As Physics Laureate Donna Strickland says in her interview, “You are doing science for the sake of the science. There are easier ways to earn a living.”
They also never stop. For example, when Physics Laureate Arthur Ashkin retired he moved his equipment to his basement and continued his experiments there. And today, at the age of 96, he is currently trying to make solar energy more cost-effective.

It is these scientists, who represent hundreds of thousands of other scientists around the world, we want to highlight in our annual Nobel Prize special issues – the ones who are always curious, have a great passion for what they do, who share their ideas so that science can flourish and probably also have the most fun job in the world!