Nobel Prize Winners Draw Their Discoveries

By Joelle Renstrom | Updated

This article is more than 2 years old


If there were a Nobel Prize for visual art, I think it’s fair to say they’d all be empty-handed, but that wasn’t a concern of Volker Steger, a German photographer tasked with the assignment of taking portraits of Nobel Prize winning scientists. The portraits were to be nothing new — the scientists sitting in a chair, talking about science and being smart while he captured them on the canvas. Steger decided to spice things up a little by making his own artistic alteration: having the scientists attempt to express their prize-worthy discoveries on paper.


That’s right — he gave them crayons and white paper, sat them down like school kids, and made them draw. Then he photographed them with their drawings, to “visually link them directly to their discoveries.” And as it turns out, the results are better than you’d get at Sears. Turns out, scientists can have personalities!

CERN exhibit

That was a number of years ago, and since then, the Nobel Drawings project has grown in popularity and scope. In 2006, Steger attended the Lindua Nobel Laureate Meeting where he whisked Nobel winners away and surprised them with crayons and paper. “Nobody gets a prior warning. That is essential. I don’t want to get another PowerPoint presentation. They come in, surprised by the lights and the setup. Then, I simply ask them to ‘make a drawing of what you got the Nobel Prize for.’” Since then, the Nobel portraits have been collected in the book Sketches of Science, have been displayed at CERN’s “GLOBE” exhibition and at the inauguration of the Large Hadron Collider, and are currently being featured in the Nobel Museum’s traveling exhibition, which will remain in Germany until the end of August, when it moves to Singapore.

Elizabeth Blackburn

These drawings are pretty awesome — I love seeing the Nobel scientists pick up crayons and engage in the activity as though they’re children, or actual human beings. If only we could get 3D figurines of the scientists hard at work in their labs. Perhaps I should draw a picture of that idea and send it to Steger.