As Nobel Prize season starts, who will get the call?
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Scientists, writers and brokers of peace around the world will be holding their breaths for a potentially life-altering, $1.5 million phone call from Scandinavia next week.
Goran Hansson will dial the first one.
"Sometimes they think that I'm joking," said Hansson, secretary of the Nobel Prize committee for medicine. He will announce the first of the 2011 Nobels on Monday, after he calls the winners.
"I usually speak to them a few minutes," he told The Associated Press. "And tell them a little bit about the ceremony and so on and then I advise them to make some coffee, catch their breath and prepare a little bit before the media starts calling them."
The Nobel Prizes, given out annually since 1901, reward groundbreaking achievements in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace. The economics prize is strictly speaking not a Nobel Prize, because it was not in the 1895 will of award creator Alfred Nobel, a wealthy Swedish industrialist who invented dynamite. It was created in 1968 by Sweden's central bank in Nobel's memory.
All prizes are announced in Stockholm except for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is presented in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, in line with Nobel's wishes. During his lifetime, Norway was in a union with Sweden.
While the literature and peace prizes generate the most buzz -- winners include well-known people such as Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Mother Teresa and President Barack Obama -- the science awards can have an even bigger impact on the recipients.
Many of them have toiled for decades with little recognition outside their field of research, when suddenly they are thrust into the global media spotlight, if only for a day.
It's a moving moment when these savants, often white-haired and somewhat awkward in their tail coats or gowns, collect their Nobel diplomas and gold medals from King Carl XVI Gustaf at the annual Dec. 10 ceremony.
Speculation surrounding this year's peace prize revolves around the revolutions sweeping Arab countries in North Africa and Middle East. The peace jury seeks to link the award to current events, including works in progress, which it demonstrated in 2009 by giving the prize to Barack Obama in the first year of his presidency.
"I'm convinced that the committee will be working hard to find a deserving candidate related to the Arab Spring," said Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and a prominent voice in the Nobel guessing game.
His top picks are Egyptian activists Israa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher, Wael Ghonim or Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni.
Writers typically considered among the favourites for the literature prize include Syrian poet Adonis, Canadians Margaret Atwood and Alice Munroe, South Korea's Ko Un and American authors Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Thomas Pynchon.
The secretive Nobel committees reveal nominations only after 50 years. Most of the juries will have made a decision by now, to be confirmed with formal votes shortly before each of the six announcements.
Hansson says it's the highlight of the year, but also a nerve-racking moment when he reads the citation for the Nobel Prize in medicine before the world media at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute.
"I have to read it out in five languages, so I have to practice a bit beforehand," he said. "It doesn't come naturally in Russian. French can also be a bit difficult."