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Enjoying the public outreach aspect of science


Dinner with the President of Austria
Eric Kandel Scientist
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After all these telephone calls - you know, isn't it wonderful that we have another Austrian Nobel Prize - the President of Austria, by the name of Klestil, wrote me a letter saying, what can we do to honor you? And I said, I have more honors than I deserve. I would like to see a symposium at the University of Vienna, a response of Austria to National Socialism. And he said, be delighted to have that.

So I asked Fritz Stern to help me, and we invited people that compared the response to Austria, response to France, to Germany, etcetera. And it was really quite wonderful, well attended, and a book came out on that. For the first time, they honestly spoke about how horrible Austria's response was. Now this was already 2001 when they were beginning… in 1996 there was a formal apology on the part of the, [Chancellor] of Austria, about the role that Austria played in the Nazi period. But what was even more interesting is when the book came out, it's a bound volume, we went back to Vienna. Klestil had died, and the new president of Austria was a guy called Fischer. And he asked Denise and me to come to dinner at the Sacher Hotel. So he and his wife, Denise and me, and Anton Zeilinger who was Austria's best scientist he's a very good friend of mine, we belong to a common organization together, and his wife, the six of us had dinner at the Sacher Hotel. No guards, no nothing.

So as we're having the second glass of wine, Denise asks him, what does the Austrian president do? Is this just an honorific title, or do you have real power? He puffs himself up and he says, of course I can declare war immediately, but I'm not going to do that. And Denise takes him through his political career, really quite fascinating. And we became quite good friends. His wife is part Jewish, was in hiding in Sweden during the war. He was in Sweden also during the war. And he'd been in Austrian politics for a very long time. He had a science education, and he'd done a lot for science in Austria. And he was actually Minister of Science at one point. So almost every time we're in Vienna he invites us for a cup of tea or something like that, and it's just wonderful to think that you're kicked out one day, and now you have tea with the President of Austria.

So I'm becoming more comfortable with Austria, although it's got a long way to go. And I've been helping two of the neuroscientific organizations in Vienna. I consult for them. And we usually go to Vienna once a year. Denise used to find Vienna quite boring compared to Paris, but then she discovered Liska. Liska is a fabulous furrier, and we're great friends with the Liskas, and Denise who loves fur has always, you know, picked up something extra. You know, a hat, or shortening one of her fur coats, or getting a new fur coat. So we have a good time with the Liskas.

And in addition, we took advantage of the funds from the Nobel Prize, because I felt so indebted to Denise, we bought ourselves an apartment in Paris that we go to every Christmas time which we enjoy enormously. Hardly pays back what Denise has given me, but it's really been spectacular.

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: Paris, Thomas Klestil, Heinz Fischer

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016