Speech: Kavli prize banquet 2018

Your Majesty, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

Groundbreaking science is human achievement at it's most impressive.

It can be pure, logical and enchanting. Like one of Bach's Goldberg-variations.

It can be revolutionary. Like a painting by Munch in a world of naturalistic artists.

And it brings with it the hope of progress. Like a man with a wheel surrounded by people with heavy burdens and tired backs.

Such is the blessing of pioneering research. But it can also be a scourge. Thomas Jefferson has perhaps formulated the hopes and expectations of science most clearly:

"The main object of all science is the freedom and happiness of man."

Neither more nor less.

To be pefectly honest: This can sometimes make me feel ashamed. I am the politicians' representative here tonight – a group who tends to think that we have the hardest job in the world.

That the pressure and the expectations we face are close to inhumane.

Lucky then that most of us are very stable geniuses.

Joke aside: Politicians can make brave decisions. Take leadership when change is needed.

A society without politicians is a society facing chaos.

But a society drained of scientific progress and courageous scientists is a society facing ruin.


The 2018 Kavli Prize celebrates remarkable acchivements.

First: The understanding of how molecules form and evolve during the transformation of a cloud into stellar systems like our own. A breakthrough, allowing us a more profound understandig of the formation-mechanisms of molecules crucial for life as we know it.

Second: A tool that allows researchers to identify specific sequences in the genome and edit them, thereby changing the instruction manual of living things. A revolution with enormous potential to address disease-causing mutations in humans and improve agriculture.

Third: The discovery of the molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing. Making us understand how our inner ear transforms sounds into electrical signals. Unveiling genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying hearing loss, and unraveling the sense of hearing.

Reading the laureates’ biographies and the Kavli committees’ reasons for awarding the Kavli Prize to the seven laureates who are with us tonight, has left me fascinated, humble and grateful.

They have expanded our knowledge of the world.

The world above. The secret life of stars and planets.

And the world inside. The fascinating truth about how sound hits the ear and converts into electrical signals that the brain can decode.

The diseases we can manage to cure.

A better understanding of our DNA. And the revolutionary possibility of editing it.


Politicians want results. Preferably the day after a decision is made.

We want to see effects. So we can point to them and say: This research and these results exist because of us. Due to our generous budgets and our policies.

But the relationship between research and progress is, of course, far more complicated than this.

The progress of science is a collective enterprise. A revolutionary idea may have to rest for a hundred years before a new revolutionary idea allows it to be taken out of the lab and into the world.

Other times, we simply do not see the potential.

Most of you have heard this story before. In November of 1895 William Röntgen began playing with a cathode tube featuring a thin aluminum window that allowed some of the electromagnetic rays to escape.

Röntgen's “Eureka moment” arrived after noticing that his newly discovered beams passed through opaque objects and affected the film beneath. A few days before Christmas he took the famous first radiograph of his wife's hand.

When Anna Röntgen saw the bones of her hand exposed beneath her skin, she exclaimed: "I have seen my death!"

But what she saw was life. An invention that would radically improve the life-saving capabilities of medicine in the 20th century.

Tonight we celebrate both of these two key elements of groundbreaking science. The longing for symmetry, precision, simplicity. After the poetry in logical ideas, not the immediate value of the work.

And we celebrate the seven laureates here tonight who have shown us that Jefferson was right: That science truly can contribute to the freedom and happiness of man.


Today we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kavli Prize. The Prize was established by the Kavli Foundation, The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and my own ministry. The Kavli Foundation and the Academy are highly respected and their united efforts have resulted in a Prize widely acknowledged and highly esteemed.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank His Majesty King Harald. The active participation of our Royal Family in our work to promote science is truly inspiring and highly appreciated. 

When Fred Kavli passed away in 2013, science lost one of its greatest champions. Kavli's legacy is formidable. With his genuine enthusiasm for the mysteries and magic of science, his everlasting dedication to basic research and the curiosity that leads science forward, he was an inspiration to us all.

Now I will ask you to please join me in a toast to the Kavli Prize laureates for 2018!