The Kavli Prize banquet

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the Norwegian Government's banquet in honour of the Kavli Prize laureates, Oslo 6 September 2016.

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Laureates, ministers, Commissioner, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. 

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the Norwegian Government’s banquet in honour of the Kavli Prize laureates.

The Kavli Prize honours excellence in science. It is awarded to outstanding scientists who have done research with the potential to transform human knowledge. 

Tonight we celebrate science – and we celebrate Fred Kavli's formidable legacy. He had genuine enthusiasm for the mysteries and magic of science. He was throughout his life dedicated to basic research and the curiosity that drives scientific progress. In short, he was an inspiration to us all.

I would like us to take a moment just to ponder the immensity of the scientific breakthroughs that we are celebrating here tonight.

The laureates in astrophysics have discovered gravitational waves. With excellent timing too, I might add. A century after gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein, they have opened up a new window on the universe: A window that will allow us to see what happened at the big bang. That will let us see the ripples in the very fabric of the universe. That perhaps will unlock the secrets of dark matter and black holes. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, on the teeny-weeny scale, the laureates in nanoscience have invented atomic force microscopy: A technology that allows us to build new structures on the molecular level, one atom at a time.

Even to a laywoman, it is apparent that with such technology, the possibilities are endless.

Incidentally, when the Scottish musician Edwyn Collins awoke after a stroke, almost the only thing he could say was that phrase: The possibilities are endless.

Turns out, he was right: Both about himself – through hard work and dedication, he managed to continue his successful musical career. And about the brain: The laureates in neuroscience have demonstrated that the adult brain is far more flexible than we previously thought.

They have found out that we never stop having the potential to form new nerve circuits. And this discovery offers us hope: Hope for developing new ways to treat neurological conditions that were once considered untreatable. For anyone who has ever watched a loved one trying to get better after a stroke, for instance, this research harbours great promise.

Now – let me be a little less serious for a moment. The great thing about science is that, while it is a serious matter, it can also be a lot of fun.

Fred Kavli called the human brain "the most complex of all things". But I think he may have been wrong. I know something that is more complex.

I am of course talking about the film Interstellar, for which astrophysics laureate Kip Thorne served as executive producer and scientific advisor. The film is about a crew of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in space, in search of a new planet where humanity can live.

I hope professor Thorne can answer an enormously complex question that I know has intrigued a lot of people:

What in the heavens was going on in the last part of that movie? I thought you would be ripped apart by gravity if you travelled into a black hole. How do you end up inside a bookshelf in another dimension? Could you please explain, professor?

If you haven't seen the film and find what I'm saying now confusing, rest assured: Watching the film wouldn't make you feel any less confused.

Kidding aside, Interstellar was great fun. And it probably inspired a great deal of people to become more interested in astrophysics.

I read something you said, professor Thorne, and I think it sums up everything – both that film and why we are gathered here tonight – rather neatly:

"The central thing is to get people excited by this so that they focus on real science and technology and on making a big difference in our world with those tools."

The research by the laureates we are celebrating here tonight have the potential to make an enormous difference. It is an inspiration to us all. And it will be an inspiration to all scientists who follow you in your fields. So – it is with humility and respect I congratulate you on being awarded the Kavli Prize.