A prize-winning trip

Japan student representative Yu Sekiguchi poses in traditional formal dress before prize-giving ceremony begins. Japan student representative Yu Sekiguchi poses in traditional formal dress before prize-giving ceremony begins.

Group picture of overseas student visitors from 19 countries with Stockholm in the background. Group picture of overseas student visitors from 19 countries with Stockholm in the background.

Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and for peace. What is less well known is that for the past two decades, selected university students from around the world have been invited to the ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden to enjoy and participate in some of the events surrounding this great occasion. Last December Tokyo Tech's Yu Sekiguchi, a first-year masters student in the Department of International Development Engineering, was one of two Japanese students chosen to make the trip, along with students from another 18 countries.

As part of the selection process, Sekiguchi had to make it through several interview screenings at Tokyo Tech, then write an essay to become one of six Japanese candidates, before he was chosen after a final interview. As well as being accomplished in speaking English, the two winners had to show that they expected to pursue a career in one of the fields associated with the Nobel Prize categories, and that they would benefit from the experience of attending the week-long occasion.

A schedule of crowded events included a visit to the Nobel Museum and to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where a press conference was given to announce the Nobel Prize in medicine. According to Sekiguchi, his biggest personal challenge came when delivering "a lecture on my master thesis, called 'Adhesion of Elastic Bodies', to some 400 Swedish high-school students. The conference hall was so big!"

The visitors not only got to listen to the prizewinners deliver speeches on physics, chemistry and economics, but also had the opportunity to talk with them afterwards. "They were just normal people, scientists, who were very enthusiastic about their subjects," says Sekiguchi.

The students also visited the Japanese embassy in Stockholm to chat with the ambassador, and of course they attended the prize-giving ceremony and banquet where Sweden's King Carl Gustaf XVI presented the medals to the prizewinners.

"We all stayed in a youth hostel, a converted yacht berthed just a few minutes from downtown Stockholm," says Sekiguchi. "So as well as attending events every day, we also had the chance to walk around the city and do some shopping." His souvenirs of the trip included 300 chocolate replicas of the Nobel Prize medals! One day, though, Sekiguchi says he hopes to come back from Sweden with a real Nobel Prize.

Tokyo Institute of Technology Bulletin No. 15 (March, 2010)