Nobel Prize ceremonies go virtual for Doudna, Genzel

December 8, 2020
By: Robert Sanders, Media relations
banners celebrating the Nobel Prize wins of Genzel and Doudna
This week the campus erected banners celebrating the Nobel Prize wins of Reinhard Genzel in physics (left) and Jennifer Doudna in chemistry. (UC Berkeley photos by Robert Sanders)

For the first time since World War II, winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes will not be receiving their medals and diplomas from the King of Sweden in Stockholm. The pandemic has forced the Nobel Committees to deliver the medals to recipients at their homes, with just immediate family and consular or embassy officials in attendance.

The downside is that winners and their families and colleagues will forego the pomp and ceremony, including concerts and a banquet — the dress code is white tie and tails for men, evening gowns for women — that have characterized Nobel Week in Stockholm for more than 100 years. The upside is that the entire world can participate this year via streaming video.

“We have reconfigured our program to ensure that we can honor the laureates in a safe manner in their home countries,” said Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation. “We will also be providing many opportunities for people around the world to enjoy the lectures, award ceremonies, concert, exhibition and inspiring conversations via live broadcasts and TV productions.”

UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna, co-recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences at UC Berkeley, will receive her medal at her home this afternoon from Sweden’s Honorary Consul General Barbro Osher. This is a change from earlier plans for all California Nobel laureates — Doudna, physics laureate Andrea Ghez of UCLA and economics prize laureates Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson from Stanford University — to attend a socially distanced event at the consul’s residence in San Francisco. Berkeley Professor Emeritus Reinhard Genzel, who shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics with Ghez, will receive his medal today at his home in Munich, Germany, instead of at Munich’s Bavarian State Chancellery.

Both Doudna and Genzel recorded their Nobel lectures in advance, for streaming early this morning.

2020 Nobel Lectures in Physics
2020 Nobel Lectures in Chemistry

Photos and video taken at each medal presentation will be streamed through the Internet as part of the official award ceremonies on Thursday, Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death — starting at 7:30 a.m. PST. All livestreamed videos can be accessed through the Nobel Week website.

2020 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony

The annual Nobel concert will be streamed live today at 10 a.m. PST.

As an historical aside, Berkeley’s first Nobel laureate, Ernest Lawrence, also was unable to travel to Stockholm to received the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics because Europe was embroiled in the Second World War. He was presented with the medal during a ceremony in Wheeler Auditorium by Sweden’s consul general from San Francisco on Feb. 29, 1940.