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VUMC resident Arissa Young went to Stockholm to see her father accept a Nobel prize. Here’s her account of that whirlwind weekend.

"I’m filled with pride. My sister and mother and I don’t need a medal to tell us Dad’s a genius. We’re just very proud that he’s being honored the way we always knew he deserved to be."

by January 5, 2018

Michael W. Young, PhD, shows off his Nobel medal with (from left) his daughter Arissa, wife Laurel Eckhardt, PhD, and older daughter Natalie following the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in December. Photo courtesy Arissa Young.

 Editor’s note: Arissa Young, MD, a first-year resident in Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, took off a few days to see her father awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

 Her father, Rockefeller University biologist Michael W. Young, PhD, shared the prize with two Brandeis University geneticists, Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD (emeritus), and Michael Rosbash, PhD, for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.

 Arissa was accompanied on her 48-hour trip by her husband, Alex de Castro-Abeger, MD, a first-year resident in Ophthalmology at Vanderbilt. This is her first-person account.

Saturday, Dec. 9 – Nobel reception, Nordic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden

We arrive in Stockholm at 8 a.m. after an overnight flight. After checking into the Nobis Hotel and meeting other family members for breakfast, we tour Gamla stan (Old Town) and the Vasa maritime museum and then return to our hotel for a nap before the Nobel reception.

As we enter the Nordic Museum for the reception we are escorted up the marble staircase and into a large room lined with tables serving hors d’oeuvres and champagne. I grab a glass of champagne and set out to find my father. I spot him, tall and blond surrounded by a crowd of people. I work my way into the crowd and give him a hug.

Mom and Dad are at the center table, dining with members of the Swedish royal family and the other Nobel laureates and their spouses. As I watch my Dad in this really formal setting, feelings rush back. I start thinking about the times when my sister Natalie and I were little girls and Dad would bring some of his fruit flies home from his lab in glass test-tubes.

I notice the miniature Nobel medal pinned to his lapel. I’m filled with pride. My sister and mother and I don’t need a medal to tell us Dad’s a genius. We’re just very proud that he’s being honored the way we always knew he deserved to be.

Next stop after the reception is the Radisson Blu hotel where my Uncle Jim has arranged a family dinner for the 22 family members who have traveled to blustery Stockholm for this special event. We toast my dad as we dive into plates of charcuterie alongside freshly baked bread, baked cod, seared steak and French fries.

Sunday, Dec. 10 – Nobel Prize Ceremony and Banquet

I try to sleep in on Sunday morning but this proves impossible due to the combination of excitement and jet lag. Before heading to the salon at the Grand Hotel to have my hair done, I search out a traditional Swedish cinnamon bun and some coffee and wander through the Christmas market in Gamal Stan to buy some souvenirs.

At 2:55 p.m. Alex and I and the rest of my family load onto buses bound for the Stockholm Concert Hall for the award ceremony. We’re seated just seven rows back from the stage. We watch as the seats on the stage fill up with Nobel laureates from years’ past, Swedish royalty, members of the Nobel committee and finally this year’s Nobel laureates.

During the ceremony, a short description of each Nobel laureate’s achievements is read aloud. The recipients bow, in turn, as they are presented their Nobel medals and diplomas by the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf.

As soon as the ceremony is over, my family rushes on stage to congratulate my father and his co-medalists and to snap a few photos with the medal, of course. We then pile back on the bus to City Hall for the Nobel Banquet.

We enter a grand banquet hall filled with tabletops sparkling with crystal glasses, China plates, and bronze flatware. We find our seats and sit down to a three-course meal punctuated by musical performances between each course.

Mom and Dad are at the center table, dining with members of the Swedish royal family and the other Nobel laureates and their spouses. As I watch my Dad in this really formal setting, feelings rush back. I start thinking about the times when my sister Natalie and I were little girls and Dad would bring some of his fruit flies home from his lab in glass test-tubes.

We enter a grand banquet hall filled with tabletops sparkling with crystal glasses, China plates, and bronze flatware. We find our seats and sit down to a three-course meal punctuated by musical performances between each course.

Fruit flies are the classic model system for studying genetics because their life cycles are so short. We’d watch them in their larval stage and follow them into fruit flies. Dad would show us how genetic differences would produce different “phenotypes,” like curly wings and different colored eyes. We were fascinated by these little insects. It was cool for us to be a part of that.

Eventually we started to do some experiments at home. Natalie did a circadian rhythm science fair project at one point. I did science fair projects on polymerase chain reaction, a technique for making multiple copies of a segment of DNA. I also grew bacteria in petri dishes.

The dinner is over. It’s time to make our way to the Golden Hall where a band is playing and couples are swirling around the dance floor. Alex and I join in for a few dances, then set off for the Students’ Nobel Nightcap (the Nobel after-party), at the Karolinska Institute.

The medical students have set up an elaborate party with the theme of “The Brain.” One room, dubbed “Imagination,” is filled with trees, flowers and students dressed as mystical creatures. In the center of the “Pleasure” room is a chocolate fountain. Men and women wearing 18th century French attire feast on mountains of donuts, petit fours and other treats.

The party is still going on at 3:30 a.m. when we stumble back to our hotel to pack for our early morning flight back to Nashville.

Monday, Dec. 11 – Flying home

 Alex has fallen asleep next to me on the plane. I’m still thinking about Dad.

He instilled in me a sense of curiosity, where I had questions and wanted answers and would learn to seek them out. I guess Natalie and I were always kind of science geeks. But at the center of that is a mind that’s curious and wanting to know how things worked.

For me it came down to wanting to know how the body works and how to make the body work when it’s not working. That’s how I chose my career in medicine.

Dad is an amazing father. He deserves awards for many different parts of his life. Science is just one of them.

 

Nobel Prize, Alissa Young, Michael Young