a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


The 'fallout' of winning the Nobel Prize


Learning I'd won the Nobel Prize
Christian de Duve Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

The end, I would say, of this episode came in 1974 when I was in New York on my own – my wife and family were in Belgium. Some day in October 1974 I was woken up early in the morning by a telephone call from some member of the administration, of the Rockefeller University... it was called University at that time. And I said, ‘What's the matter?’ And he said, ‘Congratulations, you've just won the Nobel Prize.’ And so that's how I learnt of it and... well, I learnt that this prize was shared with Albert Claude, which was wonderful because he, really, as I mentioned, was the father of it all, developing both electron microscopy and centrifugal fractionation. And shared with George Palade who did extremely important work, again, on the cell structure – he was good on electron microscopy, but on function because he had associated with good biochemists, in particular, Philip Siekevitz, who helped him developing techniques for demonstrating, for instance, that ribosomes make proteins. And so I was of course extremely happy and gratified. Such honours, of course, are a little disturbing, and perhaps the most disturbing aspect of that kind of thing is that there always is or are one or two who... scientists, friends, who are very much disappointed because they could have shared the prize – they deserved just as much – and, unfortunately, Alfred Nobel, in his will, has said that the prize could not be shared among more than three winners, so number four, number fives, never got them. This is happening almost every day now: whenever I read what has happened, I could mention to you... I don't want to mention it here, but several names of contemporary, absolutely outstanding scientist who should have shared the prize for discoveries that have been so distinguished and were neglected, for one reason or another. And some of them, as I know, feel extremely bitter and disappointed and, you know, when this happened to me also... I could also name a couple of names – people who feel that they could or should have shared the prize that I was lucky enough to... to obtain. And that... that was a... sort of a somewhat sad aspect of being distinguished that way; otherwise, of course, it's a highly gratifying experience and I feel very lucky. But sometimes people ask me, ‘How does it feel?’ I say, ‘Well, it's very much like winning a lottery.’ And they say, ‘Well, you're being much too modest.’ And I say, ‘No. Not being modest, it's a lottery; the only thing is the tickets are expensive.’

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Nobel Prize, Albert Claude, George Palade, Philip Siekovitz

Duration: 3 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008