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Objects in the Nobel Museum, 2075

Marissa Lingen is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in the Minneapolis suburbs. Her work has appeared in Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and more.

Welcome to the Nobel Museum! We're so glad that you've made us part of your day. Since the beginning, we've been asking Nobel Prize winners to donate an object that says something about their Nobel journey: their research, receiving the prize itself, or themselves as people. Our original location on the sadly much reduced island of Gamla Stan forced us to cycle through these objects, displaying only a small selection at a time, but the current location allows you to browse all the prize winners from Rontgen to Okorie. We hope you enjoy your visit!
Cross-section of jerboa spine. Provided by Farida Mohammed, winner of the prize for Physiology/Medicine, 2038. Mohammed chose a very direct representation of her team's research into the jerboa's range with the increased heat and desertification of her native North African region. Mohammed's research into how the jerboa's physiology allowed it to thrive and expand in this climate provided crucial insights for the medical/genetic adaptation of humans to Earth's rising temperature.
Clam shell, Martha's Vineyard. Provided by Alisdair MacReady-Applebaum, winner of the prize for Chemistry, 2048. MacReady-Applebaum grew up going to Martha's Vineyard when it still existed. Its disappearance motivated him to go into oceanography, where his team's work on acid balance in deep trenches was groundbreaking. By then Martha's Vineyard was unrecognizable from his childhood days.
Worn straw sandal. Provided by Lauren Sekibo, winner of the prize for Peace, 2032. The precipitous rise of the anti-fascist group Wave of Humanity startled the entire planet in its influence in African politics in the '20s. No one was surprised when Sekibo won the Peace Prize. The sandal was a bit of a mystery, as she was always known for her crisp, polished personal presentation, and she, alone among Prize winners, has declined to explain it. She is now a very elderly woman, living in the prosperous city of Luanda. The Museum writes to her every year, but hopes of ever understanding what this sandal means to her and to Africa's peace movement in the face of its staggering climate change grow dimmer as she grows older.
Carved mangrove wood face, island of Pohnpei. Provided by Tala Ramos, winner of the prize for Literature, 2070. Ramos, like Mario Vargas Llosa before her in 2010, had a variety of talismans to inspire her writing. While his were hippos (see 2010 portion of exhibit for further discussion) and hers a variety of faces made from mangrove wood from all over the Pacific, fruitful literary comparison has been drawn from their relative use of whimsical, bright physical objects to bring about varied compositions. While one might have expected Ramos to make pointed remarks about the disappearance of the mangrove habitats, instead she uses the tenacity of the mangrove in shoring up tiny islands as a metaphor for hope.
Ear of corn. Provided by Barbara McClintock, winner of the prize for Medicine/Physiology, 1983. The mobile genetic elements described in this ear of corn of course later became crucial in the application of human genetic research to inhabiting a changed Earth, but fortunately it was recognized as vital insight even before its technical applications were fully understood.
Knit sock. Provided by Ingrid Moe, winner of the prize for Physics, 2067. The type of connectivity demonstrated in the particular knit pattern was Moe's crucial insight into the structure of the universe, which had nothing to do with anything on this planet, which was frankly a relief considering everything going on when she was doing that research, good grief.
Dried modified aspergillus fungus. Provided by Mohan Katju, winner of the prize for Peace, 2068. Like Marie Curie's balance (see the 1903 and 1911 exhibits), Katju emphasizes that the dried fungus is in the museum as a tool used by the prize winners in their research. The process of using aspergillus and other fungus to remediate heavy metals from water (wastewater, freshwater, seawater) was known even in the late 20th/early 21st century, but Katju's cooperative not only transposed key genes but also got those gene-transposed fungi into the hands of the communities who most needed them--hence a Peace prize when the traditional area for this work would have been Medicine/Physiology.
Head scarf. Provided by Malala Yousafzai, winner of the prize for Peace, 2014. Yousafzai's activism for women's and girls' education in her home country spread in influence over her long life. The early award of the prize meant that she was present as a prize-winner for many later developments and that her insight and perspective became valued to younger recipients. Later Muslim women winners prized her gifts of head scarves, such as Farida Mohammed (see 2038 exhibit) nearly as much as the medal itself.
Brass candlesticks. Provided by Chao Liu Wei, winner of the prize for Chemistry, 2052. These candlesticks provided literal illumination to Chao when he was in the great power outage of 2031 in Harbin, and he was able to continue working on the beryllium chemistry insights that eventually gained him and Lin Li Qiang this prize. While the outages in Harbin continued for the rest of the year, Chao's dedication became a watchword, with theoreticians pooling their resources so that processor time went to those who needed it most and reviving a sense of shared purpose that lifted the spirits not only of northern Chinese chemists but indeed of the field internationally during a crisis that could otherwise have tried the spirits of scientists. When the light had to be shared, how could I do anything but push on to share it with others?" said Chao. Alfred Nobel would have been proud.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Author Comments

My family went to the current Nobel Museum in 2016. It was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had at a museum--and I go to a lot of museums. Science fiction writers toss around the idea of "sense of wonder" a lot, but this place! This place was sense of wonder from top to bottom! I ran around like a 5-year-old going, "Dad, look! Dad, over here! Dad!" (I was 37 at the time. The rest of the family enjoyed it, but my father's background is in chemistry and mine is in physics, so we were two kids in a candy shop.) So when I was thinking about positive visions of an uncertain future--which I do a lot--I couldn't imagine doing without the Nobel Museum.

- Marissa Lingen
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