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From the Stockholm Concert Hall to the Golden Hall: at the Nobel Prize ceremony with Katalin Karikó's guests

From the Stockholm Concert Hall to the Golden Hall: at the Nobel Prize ceremony with Katalin Karikó's guests

2023. December 11.
16 perc

In his book published twenty years ago, Pál Venetianer compares the Nobel Prize ceremony to great moments and turning points in human and cultural history. By asking the 89-year-old academician and some of Katalin Karikó's guests, we relived the small and big moments of the highlight of Stockholm's Nobel Week on December 10, 2023.

The report of our correspondents, Ilona Újszászi and István Sahin-Tóth, who reported from the Nobel Week in Stockholm:

A book by Pál Venetianer was published in 2003 under the title Csillagórák a tudományban. It presents the "triumph of molecular biology at the end of the twentieth century through its heroes and their great discoveries". He gave the recipe for the Nobel Prize according to the "constellation" of two decades ago. He had to rethink this "recipe" following the example of Katalin Karikó and Ferenc Krausz.


János Csák, Minister of Culture and Innovation (from left), and Adrien Müller, Ambassador of Hungary to Sweden, celebrated together, in a sporting manner, the success of the other one, the two Hungarian Nobel laureates Ferenc Krausz and Katalin Karikó

White scarf with tailcoat

– In Nobel's will, it is stated that the person who has done the most for the welfare of mankind will receive the prize. I begin my study published in the latest issue of Magyar Tudomány (Hungarian Science, the journal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) with this sentence. In my book published twenty years ago, I wrote about 43 wonderful Nobel laureates, but none of them met the requirements set by the founder of the award – emphasized the academician, who came to the Nobel week in Stockholm at the invitation of Katalin Karikó. – Kati is a great scientist, but an exceptional case: if it weren't for the COVID-19 epidemic, she wouldn't have reached world fame and the Nobel Prize. So this is a lucky coincidence, which is not uncommon in science. The Nobel Prize is not necessarily given to scientists with great achievements, but rather to great discoverers.


Katalin Karikó, the first Hungarian woman Nobel laureate, has received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Life Sciences from the Swedish King Charles XVI, who reigned for 50 years. Photo by MTI, Szilárd Koszticsák

The 89-year-old biochemist took part in the Nobel Prize ceremony for the first time. He didn't think he would still have such an experience. He considered the presentation of the two researchers who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to be sensational. According to him, the Karikó-Weissman Nobel lecture demonstrated the sensational result of the unexpected collaboration of two such different personalities. – Unlike art, scientific discoveries are not so unique.


Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman at the Nobel Prize ceremony on 10 December 2023 at the Stockholm Music Palace

For example, the Watson-Crick model would probably have been invented sooner or later by someone else. On the other hand, the 9th Symphony in D minor would not have been written by anyone but Beethoven, Pál Venetianer referred to the introduction to his Nobel Prize-winning book. - Nevertheless, the history of science shows accidental and lucky coincidences that cause aesthetic pleasure.

The Nobel Prize and its traditions are subject to many criticisms. For example, nowadays the rule that no more than three people can win the award is outdated. Science is a multi-component building, so highlighting some people often results in injustices. But it is also a fact that few things have done as much to popularize science as the Nobel Prize. This worldwide sensation is surrounded by all kinds of rules and restrictions.

Click to Open Gallery. Photo: István Sahin-Tóth

– The tailcoat is mandatory for men at the Nobel Week award ceremony in Stockholm. I prepared for the celebration with happy excitement. I'm glad that I could be a part of it - said the most experienced connoisseur of Nobel laureates in the life sciences.


What goes with what? Paul Venetianer, in tails and white scarf, and Eva Kondorosi in evening gown, long and transparent gloves. Photo by István Sahin-Tóth

For the 2023 ceremony in Stockholm, Pál Venetianer wore a tailcoat for the first time in his life. The academician, Katalin Karikó's former university professor and former director general of the Biological Research Center in Szeged, borrowed and brought the tailcoat from Szeged. He knocked on the door of his colleague Éva Kondorosi's room in the Grand Hotel, wearing an elegant outfit and a white scarf around his neck.


Ernő Duda and Éva Kondorosi ready to go

- Can we go? Ernő Duda asked. The charming professor of the University of Szeged, who previously worked at the Biological Research Center, tightened his white waistcoat and revealed that he had rented the dress in Stockholm. For example, since 1949, the Hans Allde tailoring service has been lending the most formal of men's clothing to those arriving at the Nobel Prize ceremony. But they didn't offer a white scarf…

 Karikó Katalin vendégeinek egy csoportja a Grand Hotelből indult a stockholmi Zenepalotába a 2023. december 10-i Nobel-díj átadó ceremóniára – (balról jobbra): Venetianer Pál, Szalay Aladár, Orosz László, Ryan Amos, Francia Zsuzsanna, Karikó Zsuzsanna, Ko

A group of Katalin Karikó's guests departed from the Grand Hotel to the Stockholm Music Palace for the Nobel Prize ceremony on 10 December 2023 - (from left to right) Pál Venetianer, Aladár Szalay, László Orosz, Amos Ryan, Zsuzsanna Francia, Zsuzsanna Karikó, Éva Kondorosi, László Vigh, Ernő Duda. Photo by István Sahin-Tóth

Variants of the evening dress

– I watched the broadcast of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony from Oslo. It was a very touching celebration. Several people cried. The awardee, Narges Mohammadi, is in prison, but the ceremony was attended by her two children and the queen. Her eulogy was read aloud. Her family members accepted the Nobel Prize - Éva Kondorosi welcomed me in her hotel room on the notable Sunday, December 10, 2023, with a summary of what she saw on the TV broadcast. The most famous female scientist of the Szeged Biological Research Center arrived in Stockholm as a guest of Katalin Karikó.


Éva Kondorosi in evening gown at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, preparing for the Nobel Prize ceremony

As a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Academia Europaea, as well as the American, French, and German academies, as well as several other important international organizations, Éva Kondorosi has already been invited to many prestigious events. But the Nobel Prize ceremony is a more special occasion than ever, especially for Éva, who was not only her colleague but also one of Kati's recommenders for the Nobel Prize.

– The Nobel Prize is handed over by the King of Sweden, and for this outstanding occasion the rules of protocol must be observed and all must be dressed appropriately. This is relatively simple for men, because a tailcoat, black patent leather shoes, and a white bow tie are mandatory, while for women it is much more complicated, she emphasized. – Several types of clothes are needed for the different events accompanying the award ceremony, such as daytime and afternoon clothes, as well as cocktail and long prom dresses. The color is not prescribed, but the length of the dress is.

"I have to get dressed, because the bus which takes us to the Stockholm Concert Hall, the venue of the Nobel Prize ceremony, leaves at 2:00 p.m." the academician gently signaled the end of the conversation when I visited her in the patina room, in the Grand Hotel, where Katalin Karikó had reserved rooms for all her guests. - We were at the hairdresser's with Kati in the morning. But given the many guests, they did not do washing, only drying. This was unexpected news. So I rushed to my room and came back to the hairdresser with freshly washed hair.


- For the award ceremony, in the presence of the king, a long evening dress is mandatory, for which I brought the dress that I wore in 2020, before Covid, at the medical ball held in Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. This is a beautiful black evening dress with a lace top and a georgette bottom. I confess that in Szeged I asked Judith Gujdár's advice about dressing. Judith not only gave advice, but also provided the right accessories, long lace gloves, a small black bag to match the dress, an imposing and extremely soft stole that looked like fur, and a small coat. We also agreed on the matching shoes and earrings, and I even learned that it is better not to wear the watch - Éva Kondorosi continued her advice after leaving her room.

– I was in Paris in the first week of December and I found a nice cocktail dress and an elegant pantsuit there, and both seemed to be a good choice for the Nobel events. I also bought a black and white "High Tech" dress from Judith - I didn't even know such a thing existed until now - and an elegant long black pleated skirt. I also wore these to the Nobel events.


Katalin Kariko and Béla French's son-in-law Ryan Amos and the daughter of the French-Kariko couple, Zsuzsanna French

Zsuzsanna Francia was resplendent in her golden evening dress. Next to the daughter of Katalin Karikó and Béla Francia, Ryan Amos walked with a proud husband's smile on his face, of course in a tailcoat. The couple stopped for a moment in the upstairs lobby of the Grand Hotel for a photo, then went to the elevator. They were also bathed in the appreciative glances of those who gathered in the ground floor forecourt, on their way to the celebration.

Queen(s) at the Concert Hall

The lucky men and women invited to the Nobel Prize ceremony were waiting in the lobby of the Grand Hotel. The majority were taken to the Concert Hall by bus. The guests took photos of each other in front of the huge Christmas tree in the lobby.

- Kati came to us first: with my wife, Ibi, we had already worked in the Biological Research Center of Szeged, in Tibor Farkas' laboratory - recalled academician László Vigh. – Already in her thesis, based on which she wrote her doctoral thesis, she had to analyze fatty acid desaturases. She performed these tests on fish, and we performed these tests on plants. Her studies were determined by László Orosz and Pál Venetianer. She invited guests from the historic era of the SZBK to the Nobel Prize ceremony as well as from the later biochemistry-related period associated with Ernő Duda and Éva Kondorosi. It is telling that the majority of her guests represent the years she spent in Szeged. In our case, the family relationship is also strong, as Kati's daughter, Zsuzsi, and our son, Laci, are the same age - László Vigh looked lovingly at his wife. The academic was standing in a tailcoat, his partner in civilian clothes, because the Nobel Foundation had limited the number of guests to the Nobel Prize ceremony to 14.

- We work with Katalin Karikó mentally and intellectually. I consider it a huge honor that, for example, when she received the Wilhelm Exner Medal, I read Katalin Karikó's eulogy - said Aladár Szalay, a former employee of the Szeged Biological Center and current employee of the University of Würzburg.

As Katalin Karikó and her handsome husband Béla Francia stepped out of the elevator, they were surrounded by photographers. The Nobel Prize-winning researcher was pulled out by hairdressers from among the selfie-takers to adjust and secure her hairstyle.


The two Hungarian Nobel laureates met and talked again in the lobby of the Grand Hotel, where Katalin Karikó and her husband were photographed with Ferenc Krausz and his wife. Photo by István Sahin-Tóth

- You see, I got this bag as a gift from a lady. My sister also brought my dress from Hungary - the queen of mRNA research smoothed over the dark, lace-decorated, simple-cut dress. The lace decorations were repeated here and there on the sleeves of the dress. The comfortable, flat shoes went well with the outfit of Karikó.


2023 Nobel Laureates in Physics - Ferenc Krausz (centre), who - like Albert Szent-Györgyi, research professor at the University of Szeged - was awarded the Nobel Prize for his achievements in his home laboratory, and in Szeged. Photo by MTI Szilárd Kosticsák

After the Friday concert, the Concert Hall has "bloomed" by Sunday. Special flowers from San Remo, Italy, the last place of Nobel's life, decorated every corner.


Alfred Nobel's last residence, San Remo, Italy, sent the special flowers to decorate the Stockholm Music Palace. Photo by MTI, Szilárd Kosticsák

– The Nobel Prize ceremony is a family program for the Swedes. At this time in Stockholm apartments, families sit in front of the dinner table and follow the royal ceremony attentively - Adrien Müller, Ambassador of Hungary to Sweden, a graduate of the University of Szeged Faculty of Law, revealed one element of the local tradition.


Katalin Karikó, mRNA researcher and research professor at the University of Szeged, receives Nobel Prize

Following strict rules, the December 10 ceremony in Stockholm is repeated every year. The 2023 celebration was followed by millions of Hungarians via television and the Internet. It may not be an exaggeration that it is worth watching again and again how Katalin Karikó steps up to the King of Sweden and receives her Nobel Prize. The loud applause and standing ovation ended with a new announcement by the master of ceremonies...


The researcher's speech

Stockholm City Hall hosts the banquet after the Nobel Prize ceremony.


Stockholm Nobel Week is also a celebration of light. A spectacular light show attracted Stockholmers to City Hall and other locations in the Swedish capital

It is a tradition that after the award ceremony, the celebration continues with a banquet organized in the Blue Room of the Stockholm City Hall.


The Nobel laureates arrived at the Blue Room of Stockholm City Hall, accompanied by their escorts. Photo by MTI, Szilárd Kosticsek

1,300 table settings awaited the celebrants in the largest space of the City Hall, reminiscent of the Dóm tér building complex in Szeged. Everyone got a new conversation partner, thanks to the special seating arrangement. The chat was mostly in English, sometimes in French, and occasionally in Swedish. The buzz of the hall died down when the royal couple entered.


Katalin Karikó and her table at the banquet after the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Photo by MTI Szilárd Kosticsek

A series of secrets make the menu mystical. Afterward, revealed: "Roasted carrots with seaweed were served as starters and the main course was cod fillet and king crab. For dessert, the guests had baked chocolate mousse with cranberry."


The arrival of the waiters and the serving of the food is part of the spectacle at the banquet after the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Photo by MTI Szilárd Kosticsek

It is forbidden to take photos even of the empty plates. Each Nobel laureate gave a speech in between the different courses.


"On behalf of Prof Drew Weissman and myself, we wish to thank the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute and the Nobel Foundation for awarding us the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine," Katalin Karikó began her speech. "It is a great privilege for us to belong to this most outstanding group of scientists who have received this award. Importantly to us, this award also recognizes the fellow scientists who worked diligently over decades to help build the foundation for our work that led to the development of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines."

As usual, Katalin Karikó made her audience smile: "The anecdote is true, we met at a Xerox machine in the hallway of a Medical School building at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. No, we didn't wrestle with each other to get access to the copy machine, it is a made-up story. Instead, Drew and I started to work together, shoulder-to-shoulder through many decades" she said.

The name of the University of Szeged, her alma mater, was mentioned in the Concert Hall. She spoke on behalf of her fellow researcher in the Blue Hall of the City Hall.

"We are very grateful to all those who have helped us on our journey, my husband Béla, daughter Susan, and grandchildren, Bear and Zsuzsi, and my sister, Zsóka. Drews's wife Mary Ellen, parents Adele and Hal, and daughters Rachel and Allison; all of our families and friends; our teachers and mentors; and our fellow scientists. We thank their support, their generosity, and their inspiration." - Katalin Karikó, one of the most well-known and popular laureates of the Nobel Week in Stockholm concluded her thoughts.


"The Nobel ceremony was really beautiful and my mum, Kati Kariko, was fantastic. My whole family was beaming with pride!! To think that despite all her hard work over the years she never got much recognition was just a setback. She persevered and helped make mRNA a reality. And now to be recognised on the biggest stage in the world... amazing!" wrote Susan French on her social media page.

Warmed up by the delicious food and drinks, the guests marched into the Golden Hall, where the dance began. Katalin Karikó's daughter, Zsuzsanna Francia, waltzed with her husband wearing the "most beautiful evening dress".


Stockhom City Hall. Photo: Helena Paulin-Strömberg, Nobel Media AB, Stockholm Media Bank.

- We got to know a new side of a Nobel laureate - enthused an unknown Hungarian who approached Katalin Karikó, then asked for a photo together and continued: - Her witty, apt sentences are so human...


Katalin Karikó, mRNA researcher and research professor at SZTE, is one of Stockholm's most popular Nobel laureates. Photo by MTI Szilárd Kosticsek

Ilona Újszászi

Photos: SZTE/Sahin-Tóth István;

MTI/Koszticsák Szilárd,

Helena Paulin-Strömberg, Nobel Media AB, Stockholm Media Bank


Read more articles on Nobel Weeks 2023.

Watch the lectures by Katalin Karikó, Ferenc Krausz, and the other Nobel laureates in Stockholm and the live broadcast of the Nobel Prize ceremony here.