Congratulations, you've won a Nobel Prize

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Okay, the phone rings really early in the morning. Caller ID says the call is from Sweden. If you're an academic or scholar, even if you're on furlough, especially this week, you know you better pick up the phone because it could be this guy:

Staffan Normark: The Nobel Assembly at Karolinskia Institute has today decided to award the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine jointly to James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof.

Werman: Typically, a Nobel Prize winner gets The Call early in the morning, very early if the recipient is here in the US. And Staffan Normark might be the guy on the other end of the line. He's the permanent secretary with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and it's his job to call recipients this week to tell them they've won a Nobel Prize in one of three fields -- Physics, Chemistry and Economics. So, Staffan, you've been making these calls for the past few years. Is there a typical reaction from a winner?

Normark: There are many, many reactions. It's usually not the laureate that is answering. Usually it's the wife, but the reactions are, of course, extremely different. Some of the laureates just get completely silent. In other cases it could be 'Oh, my God' or if they are strolling around somewhere in Europe that they have to sit down on a bench and you know, just get some fresh air. So it's very, very different reactions, I must say.

Werman: You ever get like a toddler on the line that doesn't know what the call is about and then just puts the phone down and hangs up?

Normark: We try to be very precise. When we phone we might have a little tad of Swedish accent, saying for example, this is a very important call from Stockholm, and usually then they don't hang up.

Werman: Are there any rules like the announcement that we heard earlier, was that announcement made after the call was already made to the laureate or how does it work?

Normark: It works so that we make a decision at the academy usually in the morning, and then after that we go into a separate room, me and the secretary, and then we make the phone calls.

Werman: I mean as we suggested earlier, your phone calls can be pretty darn early in the morning if the winner happens to be in California. What happens if you don't get through though? You're not gonna just leave a message are you?

Normark: Usually, we get all of them, but it has happened that we don't, and then what we do is we are sending an email at the same time that he or she has been awarded the Nobel Prize. Then it becomes public a little bit later.

Werman: What is the best, most memorable reaction you've ever gotten to calling somebody and telling them they were a Nobel Laureate?

Normark: I think, you know, one of the excitements is of course when perhaps a laureate is not expecting anything, it's a total surprise for the individual. I've made such calls and it's fantastic. You can hear children, noises in the background, and you just enter with your telephone call, a normal day somewhere with a very, very unexpected call. I must say that it's an extremely gratifying task to be able to do so.

Werman: Yeah, definitely. Staffan Normark, with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, if you ever get a call from him from Sweden, be polite. Chances are he'll have good news for you. Staffan, thanks so much.

Normark: Thank you.