Baron Stig Ramel, president of the Nobel Foundation of Stockholm, is a sort of Brunswick stew of economist, journalist, poet, diplomat, athlete and so forth and looks like all of them, with his lean frame, clear eyes, gold-rimmed spectacles and affable manner.
He spoke last night to 40 teenagers, winners of the Westinghouse scholarships and prizes given for youthful ventures in science.
He rides his bike seven kilometers every morning to work, and is into golf, skiing, sailing, literature and painting.
"And orienteering," he added, "in which you run through wood with a map and a kahm-pass [compass]. I believe it is catching on in America, though here there are so many no-trespass signs. In Sweden anyone can run across any land, except within about a hundred yards of a house. Once I encountered a huge Swedish elk, which is very like a moose -- yes, yes, the very large thick antlers -- but fortunately he didn't charge.
If he had, Ramel could have retired perhaps to a cottage to reflect and write a --
"Haiku," he volunteered, "like the Japanese. But my poetry was in my youth," and the interview paused a second in reverent sorrow and gratitude it has passed. Ramel is 54 and impresses the youth with his appearance, since they assume any man of 54 is in a wheelchair or oxygen tank.
He also studied painting in Paris as a young man.
"So long ago," he said, in another country and, besides --
But economics has been his love, his chief field of study, and he is a board member of 15 Swedish companies and frequently writes newspaper articles about economics and whither Sweden.
"People think of us as a socialist state, and our people sector is larger than yours, but we all face the same type problems. For the past few years we have had to give attention to strengthening the market economy. You can fool the economy for a while, but not indefinitely."
Somebody, sooner or later, has to lay some golden eggs (one gathered from him) and government bureaucrats (one sensed) are perhaps better at spending wealth than at creating it. He declined an opportunity to comment on President Reagan's philosophy for revitalizing business (he was for some years a diplomat in the Swedish foreign service, after all) but, not being an American, was rather optimistic about the American economy, which is, he pointed out, the largest in the world.
Since 1972 he has been the chief officer of the Nobel Foundation, which has responsibility for handing out thhe annual prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.
When Nobel died, his great fortune was an international one. He had 80 companies in 20 countries. The fortune was put into bonds, with the unfortunate result that about two-thirds of it was lost, but then the rules of the game were changed and what remained was invested. In Sweden, the three chief areas are stocks, real estate and the money market. and in the United States the foundation investment is entirely in stocks. Last year the value of the American portfolio increased 111 percent, Ramel said.
"You could make money on a newsletter about American investments," it was suggested to him, and Ramel said the foundation was not displeased. Half the foundation money is used for prizes (last year a Nobel brought with it $210,000 and this year Ramel hopes it will be more). The foundation does not have to go to the Swedish government for money, which gives it a fine independent feeling, but the sum depends on foundation investments; hence, the great interest in how these investments are paying off.
Another uncommon thing about the prizes, Ramel wnet on, is that an equal sum is spent on the selection process, in which 200 people are directly involved and a great many more indirectly.
You often here it said that Nobel (inventor of dynamite, but he also had 300 other patents in quite unrelated fields) established the prizes to ease a guilty conscience. But in fact, Ramel said, the dynamite was used peaceably, not for war, and chiefly for blasting tunnels throught the Alps and so on. Nobel had no guilty conscience at all, and at the time of his death in 1896 he had 70 scientists working for him in laboratories in Sweden, France and Italy, so the prizes in a sense merely continue his endowment of scientists.
Nobel also wrote poetry, and world peace was one of his fundamental interests, not something dreamed up after his death. Ramel said Nobel was intensively at work in what became high-fidelity radio broadcasting, moon rocketry, the development of synthhetic materials and other things far in advance of his time.
Ramel said there has been criticism, of course, from time to time of the Nobel prizes, since there is no rose without thorns, but said the fields would not be changed. There is no prize for mathematics, for instance, and there will not be one. Sometimes critics say the narrowness of the prizes means the world is getting top-heavy with men who deserve a Nobel prize but don't win one. But Ramel said the same thing could be said of the American presidency or the Olympic Games.
But one effect of the prizes, apart from honoring individuals, is that they remind governments of the value of basic research. Thus Austria perked up when Konrad Lorenz won the Nobel, and France noticed the prize to Jacques Monod in medicine, though the French had treated medical research rather as a stepchild before then.
The Westinghouse prizes to engourage teen-age science projects and, ultimately, careers in science, have been excellent things, Ramel thinks, and he cited four winners of the Nobel prize who as high-school pupils had won a Westinghouse scholarship or award.
At a reception for this year's 40 Westhinghouse winners, Ramel stood at one end of a Mayflower Hotel guest room and thhe young people in good order cued up to meet him. Most of the boys were in dinner jackets, with white caranations, and the girls were in long dresses.
""I understand," said Thomas Orren Patterson, 17, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., "that choosing the first-place winner is relatively easy, but the others are more difficult?"
"Yes," said Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, president of Science Service and University Professor of Chemistry at the University of California at Berkley.
"I'm as a nervous cat," said a girl, "and we all are," since winners were not to be announced until well into last night.
Winner of the $12,000 scholarship was Amy Sue Reichel of New York; and winners of $10,000 scholarships were Douglas Anthony Simons of Vero Beach, Fla., and Michael Morgan Dowling of Newington, Conn.
Watching a youth from New York dive for some potato chips, a Westinghouse corporate wife shook her head:
"You can feed them and feed them," she said.
"You have more brains on the hoof in this room thany any other in Washington," said an older scientist given to define statements.
The United States has of course had the lion's share of Nobel winners since World War II (more than half the science Nobels have come to America since then) and in 1976 the United States took all Nobel prizes -- a thing that brought a few rumblings that this was the Nobel Foundation way of celebrating the American Bicentennial.
But to keep us from getting swell-headed, Ramel mentioned that a third of the American winners were educated and formed outside America, among them Einstein and Fermi, so you could say (if you had a taste for somewhat bitter irony) that some of the major contributions to the glory of American science were made by Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, whose regimes resulted in many exiles.