Finding the next Moser - and funding them
Trondheim airport, Tuesday evening: His face displays a thin smile, but his head is – unconsciously? – moving from side to side, as if to say: “I don’t want this”. When a TV reporter thrusts a microphone in his face and puts forth the infamous question, hitherto reserved sport champions, “what do you feel now?” he answers “I don’t know”. His forced smile shows something else. A guess at what he really wants at that moment, would be something like “go home, all of you.”
Whereas his wife, the day before, danced up and down the corridors of the institute during the minutes and hours after the Nobel award announcement was made, singing and laughing, pouring champagne, issuing thoughtful statements in between the toasts.
Edvard and May-Britt Moser, the fifth married couple through history to receive a Nobel Prize, are distinct personalities equipped with forceful presences and a down-to-earth attitude much appraised by the employees at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, which they founded, provided and currently lead. This attitude has been much appraised this week, both fellow researchers at the institute, as well as university leaders and colleagues inside and outside the university.
This attitude, combined with the fact that they have had NTNU as their base from the beginning, explains the happiness and proudness this Nobel award has evoked in the university population. The Mosers have been a part of NTNU since 1996, after they finished their Ph.D. under supervision of professor Per Andersen at the University of Oslo. Hence, the university joyfully partakes in their award, rightfully or not.
Both turned fifty recently. Scientifically speaking they are barely out of their teens, and should expect to have at least another twenty years working with full, scientific force before age begins to take its toll. Their ambitions are to be able to provide even more scientific breakthroughs, like the one for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize.
Where are the wannabe Mosers of today, how are they found, how are they facilitated? Former dean at the faculty of Social Science (SVT) and head of Trondheim foundation for neuro science research, Jan Morten Dyrstad, issued a mild warning at the reception Wednesday: May-Britt and Edvard might not have succeeded in their endeavor, if their research project had had to be accepted and financed through some scientific committee decision around 1995. “This is something to bear in mind when we decide whom to finance today”, he said.
It is also something to bear in mind when we look at the government budget proposal for 2015. Minister of education, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, opened his presentation of the “Government long term plan for research and higher education” by pointing his finger at the Mosers, pronouncing them as role models. Still, what his government has to offer the sector is not living up to the expectations, states the leader of the union of researchers (Forskerforbundet), Petter Aaslestad. “We expected a bigger effort from a government who argues knowledge is the new pertroleum”, he says.
The government proposes 70 million NOK for the five Norwegian universities to spend on outstanding research clusters. 16 millions goes to NTNU, of which rector Gunnar Bovim, rather laconic, comments: “16 millions? We have spent 300 millions on the Mosers alone.”