Origin & MissionNobel Conference

The Nobel Conference® at Gustavus Adolphus College was the first formal lecture program in the world to be given the official authorization of The Nobel Foundation, Stockholm. It remains the only lecture program in the United States given that honor by The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

Throughout its history, Gustavus Adolphus College has honored its Swedish heritage and its commitment to excellence in education. When the College began planning for a new hall of science in the early 1960s, College officials asked the Nobel Foundation for permission to name the building the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science as a memorial to the great Swedish inventor and philanthropist whose bequest endowed the world-renowned prizes. The Nobel Foundation granted Gustavus permission to use the name, and when the building was dedicated on May 4, 1963, the ceremony counted 26 Nobel laureates, as well as officials from the Nobel Foundation among its distinguished guests. It was the third largest gathering of laureates to date—and the largest outside Sweden.

Ralph Bunche delivered the address at the Nobel Memorial Banquet. Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for brokering a cease fire between Israelis and Arabs in the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel. He was the first African American to be awarded the Peace Prize. Chemistry Laureate Linus Pauling (1954) stayed on after the dedication ceremonies to deliver lectures to the Gustavus community about his book No More War.

The following December, representatives of the College attended the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm. Following the conclusion of the ceremonies, those representatives met one evening with officials from The Nobel Foundation at the country home of the Countess Estelle Bernadotte, the widow of Count Folke Bernadotte, outside Stockholm. The Gustavus contingent, which included President Edgar Carlson, Vice President Reynold Anderson, and Dr. Philip Hench, a Nobel laureate in medicine, made an unusual request of The Nobel Foundation: to endorse an annual science conference at the College, and to allow the conference to be named The Nobel Conference—a mark of its credibility, and of the high standards it would uphold.

The Gustavus representatives laid out their twofold vision for the conference:

to bring cutting-edge science issues to the attention of an audience of students and interested adults; and to engage the panelists and the audience in a discussion of the moral and societal impact of these issues.

At the urging of several prominent Nobel laureates, The Nobel Foundation granted the College’s request, and the first conference—“Genetics and the Future of Man”—was held in January 1965.

After more than five decades, the Nobel Conference continues to be guided by that original vision. The list of conference is a documentary record of some of the central scientific and social scientific questions of those five decades, as well some of the pressing ethical challenges to which those questions have given rise. In serving that twofold vision, the Nobel Conference endeavors to realize the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s original bequest, which honored the efforts of those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to humanity” in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.

More about the Conference history can be found in these reflections from Rev. Richard Q. Elvee, former chaplain of the College and Nobel Conference director from 1981 to 1999.

Lisa Heldke, Director
Nobel Conference
Gustavus Adolphus College