New Monument Honors American Nobel Laureates

Article excerpt

Over the past century more than 270 Americans have earned Nobel Prizes. They are now commemorated in a New York City park.

TO THE 2,000-ODD STATUES AND MONUMENTS in New York City you can now add one more, and it's a beauty. It was raised to the memory of Alfred Nobel and all the American recipients of the Nobel Prize, and it was appropriately unveiled last fall in Theodore Roosevelt Park right behind the American Museum of Natural History, one of the world's most visited museums. Roosevelt was the first U.S. winner of the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1906, honored for his collaborating efforts in various peace treaties.

Since then, through 2002, another 270 Americans have received the coveted prize. No other nation can boast this many Nobel laureates.

The idea to honor this illustrious group in New York City arose prior to the celebrations surrounding the centennial of the Nobel Prize in 2001. The former Consul General of Sweden in New York, Dag Sebastian Ahlander, and former New York City Parks Commissioner, Henry J. Stern, took the initiative. They soon gained the support of Nobel laureates and had their idea approved by New York City's Art Commission, which agreed to accept the monument as a gift.

The $400,000 production, installation and long-term maintenance endowment was funded primarily by the Merck Company Foundation, with additional support coming from Skanska, the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, the NCR Corporation and Ambassador and Mrs. Lyndon L. Olson, Jr.

After dozens of committee meetings, site preparation and creation and transport of the monument itself, the unveiling took place October 14 last year, with an audience that included some 30 of the American laureates and their families. Presiding dignitaries included New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; Swedish Consul General in New York Olle Wastberg; Crown Prince Haakon of Norway; Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden Margareta Winberg; Columbia University Professor Eric Kandel, 2000 laureate in medicine; Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner, and Dr. John Marburger III, Science Advisor to President George W. Bush.

What was unveiled that day was a strikingly simple and classic monolith of rough-hewn Swedish red granite designed by Sivert Lindblom, one of Sweden's foremost sculptors and designers of urban spaces and the artist behind the Holocaust Monument in Stockholm. Tapering ever so slightly to a height of 14 feet, the four-sided monument has rounded pieces of polished black diabase at its bottom corners and small bronze spheres at its top corners. On the front face is a bronze-relief medallion depicting Alfred Nobel and a text reading: "Founder of the Nobel Prize, Swedish Inventor, Industrialist, Philanthropist and Humanist." Above it reads: "Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, Economics." The three remaining sides bear the inscription "American Recipients of the Nobel Prize." All lettering is clearly discernible at a considerable distance.

Dr. Kandel pointed out that America's role in the international community of science has evolved gradually over the last 102 years. During the first 32 years, when 101 awards were made in physics, chemistry and medicine, only six percent went to Americans. By contrast, from 1934 to the present, more than 60 percent of all science awards went to Americans. He noted parenthetically that about half of the American science awards went to scientists with some direct connection to New York. Mayor Bloomberg had previously emphasized that 24 of the American Nobelists in all categories had graduated from New York City's public schools.

Accounting for this tenfold shift in the power of American science and why 1934 was such a turning point, Dr. Kandel had this to say:

"At the beginning of the 19th century the major ideas dominating biology concerned heredity, evolution and development-three great traditions that emanated from Europe and reflected Europe's preeminence in biology. …