Frederick Sanger – Banquet Speech

Frederick Sanger's speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1958

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I had the good fortune about ten years ago to visit this country and to work for a few months in the Laboratory of Professor Tiselius at Uppsala, I did not succeed in learning much of your language, but I did manage to learn one word which is very much used, and that is the word 'tack'. This word expresses what I want to say tonight. I wish to thank the Academy for the honour that has been done me in recognising my work with the award of a Nobel Prize, an honour which makes me doubt if I am worthy of it when I think of the great chemists who have held this prize before me and when I think of the pleasure I had from doing much of this work, for in spite of the many difficulties and set-backs that one encounters I'm sure that scientific research must be one of the most fascinating and exciting occupations.

We protein chemists are I think particularly enthusiastic about our subject for we believe that we are studying a subject that is just in its infancy, a subject with great possibilities for the future that will develop rapidly and that we hope will be of great benefit to medicine and to humanity.

It is particularly encouraging to me and I hope to other protein chemists that the Academy has honoured my work on proteins in this way, for indeed this work like most other scientific work is not the result of the efforts of one man but is extremely dependent on the work of many others. It is dependent on the many protein chemists of the past who have by much painstaking work laid the foundation of our science and several of whom have also been honoured here. I would also mention the debt my work owes to my teachers, Albert Neuberger who first taught me how to do research and A.C. Chibnall who first aroused my interests in proteins. My work is also greatly dependent on the protein chemists of the present and owes much to the free exchange of ideas and techniques which I have had with my colleagues all over the world and especially am I grateful to my colleagues Hans Tuppy, and E.O.P. Thompson and others who have collaborated with me in this work on insulin. And particularly I hope that this prize will be an encouragement to other protein chemists as it is to me. For to the scientific worker encouragement is very much appreciated. So often if one takes stock at the end of a day or a week or a month and asks oneself what have I actually accomplished during this period, the answer is often 'nothing' or very little and one is apt to be discouraged and wonder if it is really worth all the effort that one devotes to some small detail of science that may in fact never materialize. It is at times like the present that one knows that it is always worth-while and I am extremely grateful to the Academy and the Nobel Foundation for giving me this great encouragement.

Mr Sanger's Address to the University Students on the Evening of December 10, 1958

Fellow students:

I hope you will allow me to address you in this way because I still consider myself a student and this I regard as a great privilege. In spite of the honour that has been done to me today I still realize that I have much to learn and I feel sure that my colleagues, who have asked me to reply to you, will agree that we research workers always remain students and thus tonight we feel that we have a bond of contact and of friendship with you.

I would like to express our thanks to you for the honour you have done us and for the delightful occasion you have arranged for us.

I think it is always difficult to offer advice to young people because everybody needs different advice. I would like to tell you all how to win Nobel prizes but I do not think this would be allowed.

I, myself, have been particularly fortunate. For about fifteen years I have been doing the work I wanted to do, work that I felt was worth-while and that I enjoyed doing and for this I have been honoured in this very generous way. I feel sure my colleagues will agree that we have all derived great enjoyment and satisfaction from doing the work for which these prizes have been given. We are lucky, but I think perhaps we may draw a conclusion from this and that is that whatever you do in life you will do it much better if you like doing it and are interested in it. We all dream, about what we will be and what we will do and very often these dreams seem rather wild and foolish, but that is how it should be and my advice to you would be to follow those dreams as far as possible and try and do that thing that really interests you and you feel is really worth-while. Especially in science we need young people with plenty of enthusiasm and new ideas, for so often we find the really new and original ideas come from the younger people who are not hampered by having too many fixed ideas. It is from you students that we expect the scientific advances of the future and a very exciting and interesting future it is likely to be.

Science, and its rapid advance has often been blamed for some of the troubles that the world finds itself in, but we scientists, most of us, do not believe this. We laureates today are a particularly international group and we are also a friendly group because we have a great common interest. We are all students of nature and I believe the bonds of common interest between scientists and between students all over the world is doing and will do much to foster the friendship between different nations that is so much needed today.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1958, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1959


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