The Fridtjof Nansen Science Symposium 2011

Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi

Send mail to: or by phone: +47 22 12 10 90

Please let us know before April 15, and on which day(s) you want to attend.

The symposium is open for everyone.

See also: Nansen as neuroscientist


Thursday 28th

1200: Lunch

1300-1730: Symposium Part I: Neuroscience (organized by Linda H Bergersen and Jon Storm-Mathisen, University of Oslo)

1300: Opening remarks by Øyvind Østerud, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

1305: Introduction by the organizers

1315: Kristen Harris (University of Texas): The anatomy of synapses -- structural basis of long-term potentiation and synaptic scaling

1350: Ole Kiehn (Karolinska Institutet): Spinal motor networks -- excitation moving us forward

1425: Cori Bargmann (Rockefeller University): Worms reveal how the brain works -- functional genomics in C. elegans

1500: Coffee / refreshments

1530: Karl Deisseroth (Stanford University): Optogenetics: unlocking mysteries of the brain in health and disease

1605: Edvard Moser (NTNU): Brain network activity and cognition -- grid cells, sense of space and memory

1640-1740: Discussion, introduced and chaired by Ole Petter Ottersen (Rector of the University of Oslo): Where to go in life sciences 123 years after Nansen?

1715: Coffee / refreshments

1800-1845: Special lecture by Roland Huntford (University of Cambridge): Nansen as a scientist Introduction by Øyvind Østerud, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Roland Huntford is a senior member of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and a former Alistair Horne Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford University, where he did research for his famous book "Nansen - The Explorer as Hero".

1845: Aperitif

1915: Dinner (by special invitation)

Friday 29th

0900-1400: Symposium Part II: Oceanography / polar research (organized by Jan-Gunnar Winther, Norwegian Polar Institute and John Grue, University of Oslo)

0900: Coffee

0920: Opening remarks by Nils Christian Stenseth, Vice-President of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

0925: Introduction by the organizers

0930: Ola M Johannessen (Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center):
Fridtjof Nansen's contribution to modern oceanography

1005: Jan-Gunnar Winther (Norwegian Polar Institute): The Arctic Sea Ice - status and projections

1040: Coffee / refreshments

1100: Carl Wunsch (MIT): The Puzzles of Sea Level Change

1135: Eugene Morozov (Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russian Academy of Sciences):
Antarctic Bottom Water propagation in the Atlantic

1210: Stephen D Griffiths (University of Leeds): Global modelling of internal tides

1245: Discussion

1310-1400: Lunch


About the symposium

Some of the world's most outstanding scientists will be presenting their work, in fields on which Nansen's legacy has had an impact. The presentations will be aimed at the non-specialist academic, but will also contain cutting-edge information.

The symposium is part of the official celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norway's "National Hero" Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) and the bicentenary of the University of Oslo. The Fridtjof Nansen Science Symposium is held by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in co-operation with the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Polar Institute, on Thursday April 28 and Friday April 29. April 28 1888 was the day on which Nansen defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Oslo.

Nansen is famous as a polar explorer, scientist, statesman and humanitarian (Nobel peace prize for 1922). His scientific achievements in oceanography and polar research are well recognized, but less widely known is the fact that, before all of the achievements he is famous for, he was a neuroscientist of international standing. Fridtjof Nansen's doctoral dissertation also marks the beginning of Norwegian neuroscience.

Nansen is to be credited as father of the Neuron Doctrine (the idea that the nervous system consists of separate nerve cells rather than a continuum of tubes, published in two papers in 1886) and for realizing the significance of the neuropil (the 'dotted substance' between the nerve cell bodies) as the site of communication between the cells (Edwards JS & Huntford R 1998 Fridtjof Nansen: from the neuron to the North Polar Sea. Endeavour 22(2):76-80; Huntford R 1997 Nansen - The Explorer as Hero. Reprinted 2009 Abacus, London).

Some salient statements in the thesis paper by Fridtjof Nansen (1887) The structure and combination of the histological elements of the central nervous system. Bergen Museums Aarsberetning for 1886, pp 25 - 214, Plates I - XI:
p144: "The tubes and fibrillæ forming the dotted substance do not anastomose with each other, but form, only, a more or less intricate web or plaiting."
p167: "The dotted substance (the interlacing of nervous fibrillæ) must be a principal seat of the nervous activity, through this substance or interlacing is the reflex-actions etc. communicated to the consciousness, which even possibly has its seat in this substance itself."
"..we can state, as a fact, that a plaiting or interlacing (not reticulation) of nervous fibrillæ extends through the whole central nervous system of all animals.."
p171: "..the dotted substance must be a principal seat of the nervous activity".."an extremely intricate web of nerve-tubes ... and this web is probably the principal seat of intelligence." (the last words of the thesis paper)

Fridtjof Nansen led the multidisciplinary Norwegian North Polar Expedition 1993-1896 transpolar drift in the Arctic Ocean on the research vessel Fram, and during that time he became, in his heart, a physical oceanographer. He made careful measurements of the water properties at all depth levels, and used subtle differences in these to deduce patterns both in sea floor topography and deep ocean currents. Volume 3 of the proceedings of the expedition is dedicated to physical oceanography.

Nansen showed a remarkable intuition of the fundamental dynamical principles governing ocean circulation. He investigated fundamental topics such as forcing of ocean currents, dense water formation, and predictability imposed by the ocean on regional climate. He became the first to note and describe dead water, a particular internal wave resistance of ships cruising at slow speed, in a thin fresh surface layer of the ocean, and was the first to observe oceanic internal waves.

Throughout his lifetime he was particularly concerned with instrument quality and intercalibration, and improved several measuring techniques, the most famous being the Nansen water bottle, which was in use well into the 1980s.