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Dinner with the President of Austria


Art and science combined
Eric Kandel Scientist
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When you get the Nobel Prize, they ask you to do two things: to prepare an autobiographical sketch, and to prepare a lecture. So one or two days after I hear about the Nobel Prize, Harold Varmus calls me up and says I've got to speak to you. So since he runs Sloan Kettering, he wanted to ride his bicycle up here. I said I better come down and see you. I came to see him and he said, 'Look, this autobiographical sketch, take it seriously. A lot of people just hand in a CV. You know, write about your life. Take the time to do it.'

So I did. It's the first time I described, you know, what it was like to be a Jew in Vienna, and I showed it to friends and they were just amazed, they found it so interesting. And when the booklet came out, which combines your autobiographical essay with the lecture, it was really quite interesting, and many people commented on it. So I took it and I made a book out of it, In Search of Memory, and it went on to win major awards. It won the Los Angeles Times Book Award, in science it won the National Academy of Science award. So that inspired me to go on, and I'd always been interested in arts, and bringing art together with science, and I wrote a book on Vienna 1900, on Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele, and what neural biology can bring to bear on their work. And again the book has done quite well. I got a lot of pleasure out of doing it. It won the Kreisky Award which is Austria's highest literary award. So I got a lot of pleasure out of doing that. And also, it came at a time when my whole relationship to Vienna was changing.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Nobel Prize, autobiographical essay, art, science, Vienna, literary awards

Duration: 1 minute, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016