When "NOBEL PRIZE" follows your name, people listen more. "Scienctists . . . anybody," says neurobiologist Julius Axelrod.
Axelrod won a Nobel eight years ago in medicine and physiology. "For instance," he says, "if I write a letter of recommendation, that means a lot. People read my papers more because I'm a Nobel Laureate." Axelrod, a soft-voiced man who smiles easily, is 66 now and when he contemplates the extra respect and attentiveness his Nobel title brings him, he shrugs gently. "Well, you want your words to have some meaning," he says.
The Nobel Prize brings instant celebrity and instant money. The sum varies from year to year, but it is always sizeable. Unless the winners are as wellknown as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Vegin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, the fame is new and jolting. For a Nobel-winning scientist, routine work is momentarily disrupted, first by the phone calls of congratulations, then by the impromptu enparties in the lab where beakers improvise for champagne glasses, and then by the deluge of invitations to speak, petitions to sign autograph requests, chances to travel.
But the money is soon spent, and the labs return to normal, scientists say with a sigh of relief. Still, the Prize leaves long-lasting prestige and clout, there for the using if the winner chooses. Even if colleagues were once admiring they are even more attentive now. And if a laureate is so inclined, he can used the award as a political tool and often have an effect just by virtue of the prize. "You may not know much more about politics than anyone else," said Nobel Laureate Christian Anfinsen, "but they can put Nobel Prize after your name which makes you stand out some."
Axelrod, who won the prize for elucidating "how nerves talk to each other" sat at his gray metal desk in a corner of his lab at the National Institutes of Health, where young jean-clad researchers popped in and out with test tubes and apparatus.
Axelrod feels that he must be especially convincing when he writes his papers. "I think because I won a Nobel Prize, people read my papers more carefully," he said referring to the readers selected to critique and recommend or disprove a paper submitted for publication in a technical journal. "People are more critical. But I won't sent anything unless it's first-rate. Of course, I'm not that preoccupied with how my papers are received."
Since he won the prize, Axelrod continues to get invitations and letters from people, many of whom have seized upon the fact that his prize-winning work had enormous ramifications for development of drugs and for psychiatry.
"You get all kinds of letters," Axelrod said, "from very sick people who want help - some schizophrenics. It's very sad. They're always unhappy people who can't be helped, although there are anti-psychotic drugs which can be used. I write them a nice letter, saying I'm not a doctor and that they should see a psychiatrist. People are so desperate. They grasp at any straw, even a little item in a newspaper about me."
(It has apparently always been that way. Publicity about the Curies' Nobel winning discovery of radium claimed that it would cure blindness, and as a result Marie Curie received numerous letters from blind people).
In addition there are letters from people who want to work in his lab. "I have a small lab, and I like to keep it that way," he said about the six biologists, chemists, and physicists who work with him. Occasionally, though, he hires some of the people who write to him.
And he gets about two invitations a week to lecture and speak. "I've learned how to say 'no' graciously." Last week, he turned down a certain invitation to speak in a European country. "It's a nuisance," he explained. "You have to write a paper. I didn't think it would benefit me or the scientific community if I went. If I accept all these invitations. I would hardly have any time to work. I accept the ones I'm interested in, or," he pauses and smiles contemplatively, "the ones in Paris, I love Paris."
Axelrod wears glasses with a darkened lens over his left eye which was blinded in a lab accident 40 years ago when a bottle of ammonia exploded. "I used to wear a black patch over my eye when I was young. It was very dashing," he said with a grin, "like Brenda Starr's husband."
He continues to work in cellular biology but on subjects far from the one he got the prize for. Currently he is studying the surface of cells and also doing work on hypertension as well as work on the effect of sexhormones on the brain.
He reads enormous amounts of materials - scientific literature, trashy novels, philosophy, newspapers, and books and articles on Nobel Prize winners. "I became very interested in tehm and what kind of persons they were," he said. "But I read about them even before I won the prize. They're interesting people, with sort of the supreme status symbol among scientist. But, in fact, for every person who wins the Prize there are 10 who are deserving and just don't get it. I was lucky. I was doing the right work at the right time."
Axelrod also cannot remember how much money he received for the Nobel. (Three people received the medicine prize that year which was a total of $76,800). "It wasn't that much for one thing." he said. "I put it in the bank. I gave some to my children. I bought some new furniture. I'm not a big consumer. I live modestly."
He did, however, use some of the money to take his family to Israel after receiving the award in Stockholm in 1970.
Axelrod said he is concerned about human rights and the rights of dissident scientists in other countries. Axelrod generally just signs petitions, he said, although he has talked with reporters about Anatoly Scharansky, the Russian scientist, in an effort to support Scharansky. "I was always conscious of these things, but before no one asked me to sign petitions. A Nobel Laureate's signature is very visible."
Christian Anfinsen, 62, who calls himself a chemical biologist, won the Nobel Prize in 1972 with two other chemists for their explanation of the structure of enzymes. He spent part of the $49,000 prize taking his family to Israel and prompty lost the rest of it in the stockmarket.
"I didn't do anything humanitarian with it," he said. "I just spent it stupidly like any other person would."
Anfinsen still works in protein chemistry but spends much of his time pursuing causes of human rights. "I find myself using whatever clout I have to further those causes along," he said.
Anfinsen, who has been supportive of Israel for 20 years, spends time contacting people about increasing the scientific cooperation among Middle Easten countries. Last spring, he went to Uruguay and Argentina to help scientists jailed there. "We weren't able to go to the Argentine jails but we met with many people including the president. It may have done some good, because a few of the people we were interested in were allowed to leave later."
Because he has deliberately made time to pursue his political and social interest, Anfinsen said his time in the lab "goes in spells."
"your have to tell yourself to forget the other 19 things you're doing and get back in the lab," he said. "It's very easy to become a professional Nobel Prize winner. It's something to be guarded against."
Anfinsen finds he also wins more honorary degrees now that he is a Nobel Laureate, "mainly to dress up somebody's program," he said.
"You tend to be contacted more often." he said."All of a sudden just because you won a Nobel Prize, people think you know so much - which you don't."
"I think I've been able to be more independent," said Harvard University physicist and professor E.M. Purcell, who won the Nobel in 1952 at the age of 40 for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance. "I can do anything I want without justifying it. I don't feel I have to be on every committee."
Like many of the Nobel Prize winners, Purceil has since pursued studies in other scientific fields like radio astronomy (an interest before he won the Nobel) and biophysics. Other prize winners said they simply drifted into new fields as a natural result of ongoing research, not of the Nobel. But Purcell said winning the prize made it easier to go into another field. "It gave me more freedom to branch out into these other things where I'm operating somewhat as an amateur," he said.
Purcell continues to teach undergraduate physics, a job he likes. "I'm kind of a miscellaneous guy," he said. "I don't run a big research group." Purcell still feels the ramifications of winning the prize 26 years later.
"I've still got guys collecting all the autographs of the Nobel Prize winers," he said. "Apparently there are people around trying to get a complete set. If people write me and say 'I'm a great admirer of your work' I know that's baloney and I don't write back. But if they say, 'Send me your autograph and here's a stamped self-addressed envelope I usually send off my autograph.
"There've been an awful lot of Nobel Prize winners since 1952, you know," said Purcell. "I'm kind of forgotten. But the list of Nobel Prize winers is a mailing list all its own, so I still get a lot of things."
One of the benefits of having a long time after winning the Nobel Prize is being able to see the results of prize-winning work. "I continue to be surprised at the enormous spread of the field in application," said Purcell about his work on nuclear magnetic resonance. "It's used for chemical structural analysis universally. Sophomores in college taking chemistry will be using this."
When Leon N. Cooper won his Nobel Prize six years ago at the age of 42 for his work on superconductivity, sudddenly doors were opening, his wife Kay says.
There was more money for his research after years of struggling. There were more attentive students to teach and colleagues to work with on regular teaching forays to Paris. There was the meeting with the king and queen of Belgium last summer in Brussels, the private audience with Pope Paul VI and 20 other Nobel Laureates.
And there were the cocktail parties with Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany, the anniversary party celebrating 75 years of Nobel Laureates in Sweden, and the leisurely talk with Werner Heisenberg, before his death in 1976. Heisenberg, a Nobel Laureate, is considered one of his century's greatest physicists, a man with whom there would have been little chance elsewhere to talk to as a colleague.
"I can see what it's done for him," Kay Cooper said. "People who had known him would start opening so many doors on so many levels - his personality hasn't changed though. Not at all. He has a very stable, secure ego. I have to tell myself sometimes that he won it."
Biologist Marsahll W. Nirenberg says his life has changed at all since he won the Prize 10 years ago for his work in genetics.
"One of the really nice things that happened was the outpouring of congratulations," he said, "from friends, colleagues, people I hadn't heard from in years."
Nirenberg continues to work at NIH, concentrating on the problems of neurobiology. He works seven days a week, from mid-morning until 3 the following morning. When asked how he spent his prize money, he paused. "I can't remember," he said, sounding genuinely surprised. "I honestly cant't remember how much it was. It just didn't matter that much."