Nobel Prize gives researcher and Hopkins more exposure

Winners say to expect whirlwind of speeches, research money

October 04, 2011|By Childs Walker and Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Few understand the club that Adam Riess joined Tuesday when he received a 5:30 a.m. phone call from Sweden.

But Carol Greider received the same call two years ago, and soon she'll sit with her Johns Hopkins University colleague and tell him what it's like to become a Nobel laureate.

"It's going to be a complete whirlwind at first," the molecular biologist said after a news conference for Riess. "First it's the press, but then it's the academic community. I was getting 200 to 300 emails a day after I won."

A Nobel victory creates many ripples. For the winner, it means research dollars, worldwide speaking engagements and lucrative job offers from other universities. For an institution such as Hopkins, it creates a new face to represent the possibilities of an ambitious research mission.

For Riess, who becomes the fourth Nobel winner on the Hopkins faculty, it meant finding champagne in his office when he arrived at work Tuesday. "So that was a good start," he said of life as a laureate. As a 2008 winner of a MacArthur "genius" grant, Riess has experience with high-profile prizes. He said all the attention associated with the Nobel is unlikely to change his career course.

Riess hopes to continue his telescope research on the acceleration of the universe. "When you win, you probably win because you've done a pretty good job doing one thing. So I think it makes sense to keep doing that thing."

His words fell in line with the advice Greider planned to offer.

"The key will be staying focused on what's really important and staying focused on your research," she said. "It's going to be a very enjoyable experience for him. It opens doors to giving input on national-level discussions that would otherwise be closed."

Despite his unassuming answers, Riess is about to become a symbol of what Hopkins aspires to be as an institution. He was already one of the faculty members Provost Lloyd Minor planned to highlight as part of a yearlong project to promote innovation.

On Tuesday, Minor said Riess has demonstrated the wonderful things that happen when the best minds are unleashed on the biggest questions of our time.

"I think it's important to Hopkins, because it shows that we're attracting the very best faculty and they're doing work that's recognized around the world," Minor said of the Nobel. "It recognizes the fundamental contribution that Adam has made in understanding the universe, and it gives our students something to aspire to."

The provost said one of his favorite things about Riess is that the lauded researcher teaches a class to undergraduate, non-physics majors on the nature of the universe.

"I think that shows you how Adam embodies the kind of university we are," Minor said. "We want to encourage collegiality and collaboration, inquiry and discovery at all levels."

Greider said the Nobels — Hopkins professors, graduates and visiting fellows have won 35 — reflect to the world the university's commitment to ground-breaking research. "It's a testament to the support of the fundamental sciences," she said.

As Riess learns the ropes of life as a Nobel laureate, he will be able to look to three faculty colleagues who have won science's most prestigious prize in the last decade.

Riccardo Giacconi, a professor of physics and astronomy, won the 2001 physics prize for his work in X-ray astronomy.

Peter Agre of the School of Medicine won the 2003 chemistry prize for his discovery of aquaporins, proteins that regulate the flow of water in all living cells. Agre subsequently became fascinated with the protein's role in the malaria bug's life cycle, research he continues to explore as director of the Malaria Research Institute at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And Greider, director of molecular biology and genetics in the School of Medicine, won the 2009 prize in physiology or medicine for discovering an enzyme called telomerase, which plays a crucial role in the genetic life of cells and holds promise for developing treatments to fight cancer and age-related diseases.

Post-Nobel life is not always a smooth journey. Winners discover that no matter how lauded they were in the past, requests for speaking engagements and recruiting pitches from other universities suddenly skyrocket, disrupting their lives.

Agre, who was out of the country Tuesday, left Hopkins for two years to serve as vice chancellor of science and technology at Duke, a move he made in part to restore order to a career that had been thrown into chaos by his Nobel win.

In a 2005 interview, Agre said it had become almost impossible to continue normal life as a researcher. He criss-crossed the world, making as many as 100 speeches a year. He even appeared on "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central to talk about the importance of science education.

Agre said life became so hectic that he asked his tissue culture technician to double as an office assistant, while his sister-in-law volunteered to answer phone calls and email twice a week.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.