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Taking a Nobel on the Road

After winning a Nobel Prize, a researcher's life changes in many ways, writes Clara Moskowitz at Scientific American's Observations blog.

Earlier this week, the University College London's John O'Keefe and May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry's Stefan Hell, Eric Betzig from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm, and Stanford University's William Moern won the chemistry prize. The physics, literature, and peace prizes were also announced.

"Your life does change overnight," says astrophysicist Brian Schmidt, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for co-discovering dark energy. "It's not like you get advanced warning, they just sort of call you up, in my case, in the middle of cooking dinner. 'Hello? By the way, you've won the Nobel Prize.'"

One unexpected way it can change is making traveling tricky, Moskowitz says. After receiving the medal, Schmidt's grandmother in North Dakota wanted to see it, so he brought it along on a visit. But it puzzled the security workers at the airport. "They said, 'What's in the box?' I said, 'a large gold medal,' as one does," Schmidt recounts, noting that he said it was made of gold and he'd received it from the King of Sweden. Once he told them it was a Nobel Prize, he says their next question was: "'Why were you in Fargo?'"