Paul Modrich's Nobel Week in Sweden

From visiting teen scientists to signing chairs, Duke's new Nobel laureate is busy

Part of the Paul Modrich Shares Nobel Prize in Chemistry Series
Chemistry Laureates Paul Modrich (left) and Aziz Sancar listen to a musical interpretation of the Chemistry Prize - a melody determined by DNA's four nitrogen bases, A, G, C and T - at the exhibition Nobel Creations at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm. Copy
Chemistry Laureates Paul Modrich (left) and Aziz Sancar listen to a musical interpretation of the Chemistry Prize - a melody determined by DNA's four nitrogen bases, A, G, C and T - at the exhibition Nobel Creations at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm. Copy

It’s Nobel Prize Week in Sweden, which means Paul Modrich has barely a moment to spare.

Modrich, the James B. Duke Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and an investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is sharing the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Swedish researcher Tomas Lindahl and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Aziz Sancar. All three were cited for their path-breaking work in different mechanisms of DNA repair.

Here are five things Modrich and the other laureates will get to do before they shake Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav’s hand Thursday morning at the official ceremony.

Sign a Chair 

It’s a tradition, perhaps a unique one.  Each Nobel Prize is commemorated by the laureates signing the bottom end of a leather chair seat that remains at the Nobel Museum in Sweden.  Modrich joined Lindahl and Sancar in this ceremony Sunday. He also recorded a short video interview for the Nobel Prize’s website.

Below: The chemistry chair signed by Modrich, Lindahl and Sancar. Photo by Claudio Bresciani/TT courtesy nobelprize.org

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Visit a Local School

Nobel laureates serve as ambassadors for science for the rest of their lives. Modrich started in this role Monday when he visited science classes in a Stockholm lower school, talking about his career and answering student questions.

 

Present a Lecture

The science took center stage Tuesday with the laureates presenting short talks on their research. Modrich traced the study of DNA mismatch repair from the earliest theories to his research that uncovered the mechanisms of how the body stabilizes its DNA by identifying mismatched DNA pairs and then blocking reproduction or targeting them for death.  

Below: The lectures in chemistry. Modrich's talk begins at 33 minutes.

Attend a Concert

Tuesday night, Modrich made his first appearance at the lavish Stockholm Concert Hall to hear celebrated Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst lead the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. This year's soloist is the young pianist Daniil Trifonov, who will join the orchestra in performing Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben.”

 

Visit Sweden’s Parliament 

Wednesday’s schedule includes another visit to a Swedish school, followed by a meet and greet with Sweden’s leading politicians at the national parliament. This time, Modrich doesn’t have to go before the audience: A member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science will explain the DNA repair research to the politicians and discuss why it was selected for the Nobel Prize.

All this is prior to the main event, the Nobel ceremony Thursday morning in the Stockholm Concert Hall. That’s when Modrich puts on the formal white tie and tails attire and the Swedish princesses arrive with their tiaras. King Carl XVI Gustav will present Modrich, Lindahl, Sancar and all the Nobel winners with a medallion, a certificate and “a document confirming the Nobel Prize amount.”

If you want to watch the ceremony, it will be streamed live beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday at nobelprize.org.

For more about Modrich’s research and Nobel Prize, click here.