The Kavli Prize Banquet

Speech by Sten Grillner, 2008 Kavli Laureate in Neuroscience

On the evening of September 9, the Norwegian government held a banquet at Oslo's City Hall celebrating the Kavli Prize and honoring the inaugural laureates. Speaking on behalf of fellow laureates Thomas Jessell and Pasko Rakic, as well as himself, Sten Grillner provided these remarks.

Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, and in particular, the great donor Fred Kavli.

On behalf of my two fellow neuroscientists Tom Jessell and Pasko Rakic and myself, I would like to express our sincere thanks to The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and their very distinguished prize committee for the great honor they have bestowed on us - by selecting for the very first Kavli prize in Neuroscience. We are very impressed by Fred Kavli's design of these new awards, which span from the very grand scale of astrophysics to the microscopic level of nanotechnology, and to the level in between: the brain - no doubt the most complex organ created by the biological evolution over a very, very long time... billions of years.

The human brain is a very spectacular electrochemical machine with billions of nerve cells and trillions of synaptic contact points. What is inside our brain determines who we are, what we like and dislike. When we enjoy something, like this fabulous dinner in this fantastic setting, certain parts of the brain get busy in storing this information as memories and, at the same time, make us subjectively feel good. On the other side, when we get upset - it is also all in our brains. Thus one may say "Our brains are us" or in a more egotistic manner "My brain is me." That is why brains cannot be transplanted!

What have we done to deserve this honor? As scientists we stand on the shoulders of generations of brilliant scientists. To their findings, we have had the opportunity to add what the prize committee has considered novel and important pieces of knowledge. We have done this, each with a conviction that what we strive to understand would provide important insights. We have all been lucky in having a number of dedicated colleagues who have helped us realize our goals. Tom Jessell has unraveled how the executive part of the nervous system, the spinal cord, is put together through a series of molecular events. I, and my colleagues, have worked out the dynamic operation of the networks that makes up move, and Pasko Rakic how the layered cerebral cortex is formed - the neural structures that make us think and perceive the world.

These different areas form, I believe, building-blocks that contribute to our understanding of how our remarkable nervous system makes us do all the things we enjoy - and sometimes those that we would prefer not to - and occasionally make wise decisions... something that our brains, however, could be better at [and where there is] room for further biological evolution.

Although we now understand eons more than when the three of us started as neuroscientists, we need to realize that many, if not most, big questions remain unanswered, like consciousness or the thought process. There are other important areas in neuroscience that may be equally deserving. We are grateful to our lucky star to stand here at this very moment - proud but also humble. Finally, without our dear families - patient and engaged at the same time - we would not be here today. The same applies to our colleagues and friends. Once more a great many thanks to Fred Kavli, the originator of this remarkable event, and to the Norwegian Academy and government.