Prior to attending Gustavus Adolphus College, my cultural connection to Sweden was limited to the Swedish meatballs my grandmother made and my innate love of coffee. However, at Gustavus I heard stories from friends who had gone to Sweden and was inspired to experience the country my ancestors came from. The fall after my Junior year I journeyed to Stockholm to participate in research at Karolinska Institutet, and while I was there I fell in love with the Swedish people, aesthetic, and nature. During December of 2016, I returned to Stockholm to take part in the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS) and Nobel Prize festivities – all made possible through sponsorship by the Swedish Council of America as part of the Glenn T. Seaborg award.
The SIYSS is an annual weeklong event for young international scientists, arranged in connection with the Nobel festivities by the Swedish Federation of Young Scientists. This year, 24 of my peers gathered from 18 countries to participate in eight days of events culminating with the Nobel prize ceremony. During the week, I became close friends with several of my fellow scientist-participants and learned something new about each of their cultures – and each of their research projects as well! This program was an incredible opportunity to grow not only the bonds between us as individuals, but also strengthen the bonds between our countries.
Day 1. December 3rd – Arrival Day
On my first day in Stockholm, I was greeted in the airport by Mariam Andersson and Thomas Gustafson, two of the 12 SIYSS coordinators for the week. These coordinators were graduate students from universities across all of Sweden (Lund, Upsala, Karolinska, KTH, etc.). After exchanging greetings I was whisked away to af Chapman, a ship moored directly across from The Royal Palace.
That evening, I met up with two friends, Magnus and Karin Fredricson, for dinner. The Fredricsons hosted me for the Midsummer Holiday two years ago while I was doing research at Karolinska. It was so fun to see them again and catch up on their lives.
Day 2. December 4th
Most of the other SIYSS participants arrived this day, and I spent most of the day meeting my new colleagues. In the evening, we went ice skating at an outdoor rink constructed in the Kungsträdgården park, and re-energized ourselves with dinner at MAX – in my opinion the best fast food restaurant in the world.
Day 3. December 5th
On our first full morning together as a group, all 24 of us were whisked away to a mystery “team-building” activity. Normally I am skeptical about these activities, but my excitement was turned up to a 10 when I found out that we would be curling (a first for me)! Curling was a unanimous success, and was especially enjoyed by those who had never played an ice sport before (like Gabriel).
That night, we participated in an international dinner where each of us presented on the country we came from. I learned something new from each presentation and was able to sample traditional snacks from some of the countries (like grasshoppers from Japan and fruit filled pastries from Russia). I even acquired small gifts from a couple of the attendees.
Day 4. December 6th
After a short bus tour of Stockholm, during which we saw major landmarks such as city hall, the Royal Palace, and the opera house, our group arrived at the Astra Zeneca pharmaceutical company where we were given a tour of their production facilities. Before the tour we all had to get dressed in sterile jumpsuits. After seeing the cleanliness of their facility and the strictness of their rules regarding their drug production, I will never be concerned about contamination in an Astra Zeneca drug!
That afternoon, the other American participants and I attended a reception at the United States Ambassador’s residence for the laureates who conducted their research in the United States. While there we had the opportunity to chat with not only two of the laureates (Sir Fraser Stoddart and J. Michael Kosterlitz) but also the Swedish/American astronaut Jessica Meir.
Day 5. December 7th
The main event on Wednesday was watching the lecture given by Yoshinori Ohsumi, winner of the prize in physiology or medicine for his discoveries in the field of autophagy (recycling of cellular components carried out by the cell). Ohsumi’s talk was especially exciting for me because, as both a medical and biology major, I have read about this process in every biological textbook I have ever been assigned. I was star-struck to meet the man that contributed the most to its discovery.
Day 6. December 8th
We woke up early to travel to the Aula Magna of Stockholm University to attend lectures given by the Prize winners in physics, chemistry, and economics. The physics lecture was difficult for me to understand because of my lack of background in that area, but I was inspired by the ingenuity shown by the chemists (who researched molecular machinery) and the compassion and thoughtfulness of the economists (who contributed to contract theory).
That evening we were led to a mysterious candlelit entrance on the engineering school campus that descended 10 flights of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was a dimly lit but expansive room that held the remnants of a decommissioned nuclear reactor! We later learned that this was the KTHR1 nuclear reactor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Institute_of_Technology#R1_nuclear_reactor) that now serves as a hall for dinner parties, theater, and opera (apparently it has excellent acoustics). It was in this space that we practiced our eating etiquette and dancing (the waltz and Bugg) for the Nobel Banquet.
Day 7. December 9th
After a quick breakfast this morning we returned to the Karolinska campus to present our research at the SIYSS conference. I was surprised to see how big the crowd was (pictured below). There were over 800 high school students in attendance! I had a lot of fun sharing my passion for genetics with the high schoolers, and a few of them even e-mailed me afterward asking for more information on my topic.
Day 8. December 10th
Today is the big day! After a late breakfast, we changed into our tail coats and ball gowns and then had a pre-ceremony reception aboard af Chapman that lasted until 3 pm. Post-reception, we made our way to the Opera House via limousine where the king awarded the Nobel Prizes to the Laureates.
Following the award ceremony, we took buses to the City Hall for the Nobel Banquet. The banquet was incredible: three ultra-fancy courses (salmon, quail, and cloudberry sorbet) were served, and each was separated by entertainment from a modern music group led by a world-class clarinetist. After the meal ended, the entire hall full of people processed up to the ballroom where I made use of my dance practice from the night before.
Around midnight, a group of SIYSS participants and I left city hall to go to KTH, the site of this year’s Nobel Nightcap. The nightcap is an annual student sponsored party for all the Nobel banquet guests and has a different secret theme each year – this year’s theme was video games! At the Nightcap, I talked, played games, and reminisced with my new friends until 5 am. It was the perfect end to the perfect week.
Nobel Week in Stockholm was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget – it’s nickname “Magic Week” could not be more appropriate. Not only did this trip renew my inspiration for research by reminding me what is possible with persistence and hard work, but also gave me another reason to share my love with Sweden (and how cool it is!) with my friends. Returning from Stockholm, I found myself most thankful for the many new international friendships that I made, and proud that I contributed to a positive relationship between the United States and the other delegates’ countries.
This trip would not have been possible for me without the generous support of the Swedish Council of America and its sponsors. There are no words to adequately express my gratitude. Additional thanks to those who helped me with the nomination process at Gustavus Adolphus College (Prof. Amanda Nienow and President Bergman), to Gregg White and John Hasselberg at the Swedish council of America for the history lessons at the American Swedish Institute, and to the SIYSS coordinators.