By Karl Leif Bates

Photo Illustration by Jonathan Lee, Duke News

Duke’s soon-to-be Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Robert Lefkowitz, is off to Sweden next week to pick up his prize and to shake King Carl Gustav’s hand  — probably more than once.

But first, he has to visit President Obama at the White House, say a few words at the Swedish embassy, and do about a half-million other photo ops.

“It has been even more intense than I expected,” Lefkowitz said  in a hurried conversation on Tuesday.

His Nov. 29 visit to DC will be “an amazingly intense day,”  starting with a symposium and Q&A session at the Swedish embassy, followed by a 45-minute visit with the President and other American laureates in the Oval Office, then a reception at Blair House and maybe a trip to Capitol Hill. He’s been invited anyway;  he ‘s not sure he can go. Then it’s back to the embassy for a black tie dinner where he is to give remarks before 130 people or so, including Senators, members of the US Supreme Court and other Washington A-Listers.

Friday it’s back to campus, where Lefkowitz speaks to the Duke University  Board of Trustees meeting in the morning and then joins the board for a social event at Hart House in the evening.  Saturday, his synagogue honors him.  Sunday he packs.

“And then Stockholm? Fuhgeddaboudit.”

Guests raise a toast to Alfred Nobel at the 2011 banquet. (Nobel Foundation 2011)

Lefkowitz’s  sojourn in the Swedish capitol includes a whole week of Nobel Festival events leading up to the Monday, Dec. 10 award ceremony.  Among other things, he is to  give a formal half-hour lecture for posterity and visit a local high school.  There’s also the matter of a 5-minute toast at a white-tie dinner with the King of Sweden,  which his co-laureate Brian Kobilka was only too glad to let him handle.

“They said 3 minutes, but I watched 15 of them online and the mean was 5 minutes. So mine is 4:45.”

On Monday, Dec. 10 — the 116th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death — Lefkowitz will formally receive the medallion, a certificate, and “a document confirming the Nobel Prize amount” with his colleague and former student Kobilka in a white-tie and tails ceremony in the lavish Stockholm Concert Hall.

The Swedish Royal Family: (left to right) Queen Silvia, King Carl XVI Gustaf, Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Carl Philip and Prince Daniel. (Nobel Foundation 2011)

Laureates each receive only 14 tickets to this event, which is fewer than Lefkowitz has family members, unfortunately.  But even though they can’t get tickets, many Lefkowitz and Kobilka alumni from all over also will be coming to Stockholm, just to be close to it. They’ll have their own reception elsewhere during the week, Lefkowitz said.  And then on Dec. 11, there’s yet another white-tie dinner with the King and Queen — in the royal palace this time.


If you weren’t one of the lucky 14 people to get a ticket from Bob, Duke is hosting a viewing party for the live webcast of the Nobel ceremony from 10:30 a.m. to Noon on Monday, Dec. 10. in Schiciano Auditorium A&B.  (White tie and tails are optional.)

You can also tune in wherever you might be that morning at  The prize committee has not decided yet whether the 90-minute Nobel Banquet Highlights program will be made available on the web. It will be broadcast on Swedish television.

Learn more about Lefkowitz’s research and mentorship on Duke Today’s special site.


Here’s the hardware, baby: Linus Pauling’s Chemistry medal from 1954.