A strange week

Like never before

Not only a strange but also an unprecedented week was the last one.

On Monday, around 11 AM came a casual announcement in the news that the medical Nobel Prize was awarded to Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian researcher.

It came as a tease after the last few years, when we all, or most Hungarians were receiving the news with indignation around this time of the year that the Prize was again denied to our personal candidate in favour of someone we never heard of, denying it from the truly deserving candidate, the tenacious and and deserving Katalin Karikó. What can be the problem, we wondered, that prevented the Karolinska Institutet of Sweden from recognising the true candidate deserving the Prize she so reachly deserved, after all that she has done for humanity and for defeating the Covid-19 virus? Not to mention the invention of a new kind of method of delivering medicine into the human body, so simple and so ingenious that the likes of it had not been invented since Salvarsan, if you know what I mean. But the Karolinska Institutet, the august body entrusted by Alfred Nobel himself with the awarding of the Prize, was not about to be pressured, or rushed into any decision; just overlooked our Hungarian candidate. Many people regarded this as some kind of revenge for not voting on Sweden’s accession into NATO by the Hungarian Parliament, a kind of subtle tit for tat.

In the meantime, Katalin Karikó managed to collect just about all the honours and decorations available in the scientific community and while doing that, she was bragging on facebook about her successes raising and producing lovely flowers on her window sills. Not one word about honours.

Being fully unqualified to discuss the scientific aspects of her discovery, I can only mention that the RNA (Ribo Nucleic Acid) is a simpler constituent of the DNA, and the version of it used to deliver the vaccine into the body was named mRNA. The ”m” is in reference to its role as ”messenger.”

The Nobel Prize was divided between the research partners, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman having shared the discovery. And as far as Katalin Karikó was concerned her tenacious insistence on the developing of this method was really admirable. First, the University of Szeged let her go in 1985 for not producing any quick and practical results. She packed her bags and departed to the USA. But there were also occasional adverse circumstances, and she had to work in other fields before she could return to her original interest in the RNA; by the time the Covid-19 arrived, their technique, the Karikó-Weissman technique, was poised to be the ideal method for producing the vaccine fast, safe, reliable, cheap, and effective.

Katalin Karikó on a 220 square meter mural in the heart of Buda (featured image via Brain Bar)

Although the award came to her sooner than to many other researchers – the Covid pandemic starting in 2019 and finishing in 2022, in fact her ”overnight success” is the result of some thirty years of tenacious struggle and hard work, failures, stops and starts; not at all that sudden after all.

When Richard Dawkins, the world-famous biologist heard about her and her vaccine, he wrote: ”Give this woman a Nobel Prize.” That was in December 2020.

We can all calm down now, there as no ill will against her as a Hungarian, nor as a woman; she got her well deserved Nobel in good time, the first woman amongst the numerous distinguished Hungarian laureates everybody likes to talk about as a matter of national pride.

But the week was far from over.

The next day, Tuesday, came the cool, dispassionate announcement in the news that the divided physics Nobel Prize has a Hungarian recipient too: Ferenc Krausz. About him alas, I cannot say much, because I was not aware of his work and career before. However, it has become known by now that he earned his doctorate in Vienna, works in the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich as professor of the experimental physics chair, and he is the director of the Max Plank Quantum Optical Institute, in Garsching. The prize is also divided in his case between him and two of his collegues. Congratulations to them!

Ferenc Krausz Nobel Laurate in phisics 2023. (Wikipedia commons)

But of course, having experienced the sweet taste of glory, there are still some people (why deny it, myself being amongst them,) who for years now have been expecting the arrival of the Nobel Prize for literature to our exuberant and literate shores. In fact, we have our candidates, not just one, but two deserving of the Prize, and it really wouldn’t have been too much to ask for not two, but three Hungarian Nobels announced in one week. But, alas, being taught during the course of a long life about realities and the futility of instant gratification, I think I will just have to make do with two Nobels in the same week and keep the hope that one day soon the literature prize will at last be awarded to one of our self-appointed candidates.

And yet! Three in a week, nevertheless, would be better than just two.

Sandor Kerekes


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