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Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard: Following Nature's Course

Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1995 for her research in the genetic control of embryonic development. She told DW about her post-Nobel duties and her love for the outdoors.

Nobel Prize winner Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard

Even as a little girl, Nuesslein-Volhard was fascinated with the natural world

Deutsche Welle: Where were you and what were you doing when you heard about your Nobel Prize in 1995?

Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard: I got the call from Stockholm at around 11:00 a.m. when I was at the institute. Of course it was very surprising, even though I didn't fall off my chair. And I was truly happy once I learned that I would be sharing the prize with my long-time colleague and my very good friend Eric Wieschaus.

How have you personally benefited from the Nobel Prize?

It was a wonderful thing. The notoriety that one gains in winning the prize is great. The prize also gave developmental biology some momentum, thrusting it into the spotlight.

Does the Nobel Prize have negative implications as well?

Life is more difficult after because, although my job is already a work-intensive profession that is exerting in any case, I had to take on even more duties. For example, conveying science to the public, taking part in ethics committees, advising, being on many boards and writing reports. So at the time I suffered a little bit. At first everyone was very excited and then a big wave of envy came and then I received all of these responsibilities and if you say no, people say that you have no sense of responsibility. But I always tried to do my duty.

Which subject did you dislike in school?

I wasn't gifted when it came to languages. I mostly copied in Latin and in English I was often on the verge of a five (the lowest grade -- eds.). But I was often an only student in art and music.

Are there any other disciplines in which you would like to do some research?

I actually don't want to research in any other discipline. My siblings all studied art or architecture. But as a child, I was already interested in animals and plants. Even back then I wanted to be a natural scientist. And my parents were great in supporting me. I was always in the garden or forest and always had my eyes on the ground because I was looking for plants and animals. But I also find chemistry and physics interesting, in addition to biology.