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Dale Mortensen Nobel Prize medal donated to Northwestern

Image of Mortensen family with Nobel prize medal
Beverly, Mortensen’s widow, (far left) said “the medal belongs here at Northwestern.”

The family, friends, colleagues and former students of the late Dale T. Mortensen, the Ida C. Cook Professor of Economics at Northwestern University and Nobel Laureate, gathered Feb. 1 at the Kellogg Global Hub for the dedication of Mortensen’s Nobel Prize medal, which was donated to the University by the Mortensen family.

The medal is currently encased in glass in the department of economics. Mortensen, a professor at Northwestern since 1965, passed away in 2014 at the age of 74. 

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and Lawrence Christiano, chair of the economics department, gave remarks along with Mortensen’s widow, Beverly, and his son, Karl.  

“He was a great economist and a great mentor,” President Schapiro said. “So many people here and elsewhere in the field have benefited from his brilliance. Many Ph.D. students have gone on to have incredible careers because those skills were honed by the master, Dale Mortensen.  

“I hope that with this recognition everybody will always remember him. I hope that whenever anybody walks by and sees that Nobel Prize, they’ll remember he was a great man, a great teacher, a great scholar, and he’s the shoulders on which we stand. I salute Dale Mortensen,” President Schapiro concluded.    

In 2010, Mortensen won the Nobel Prize in Economics, along with Peter Diamond of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Christopher Pissarides of the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom.

The prize recognized “their analysis of markets with search frictions,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. The three developed a framework that seeks to explain why there are so many people unemployed at the same time as there are a large number of job openings. Their model helped explain the ways in which unemployment, job vacancies and wages are affected by regulation and economic policy and can also be applied to other areas, including the housing market.

Mortensen pioneered a new approach to studying important economic problems now known as search theory. Utilizing the theory, Mortensen developed an original approach to investigating the labor market, revolutionizing how economists and policymakers view labor market matters and the role of government policy and regulation.

Beverly, Mortensen’s widow and also a University faculty member, said Northwestern was her husband’s first and last job.

“He credits Northwestern for being his supportive base for his entire career,” she said. “Although he visited many universities over the years, Northwestern remained home. The medal belongs here at Northwestern.”

Mortensen’s son, Karl, recalled how Mortensen, in the last weeks of his life, surprised him, telling him he wanted to donate the medal to Northwestern.

“And so began the journey, and it was for everybody involved,” Karl said. “It’s not easy to give something like this away.”

After many discussions with Northwestern, the plan slowly came together. And as to when to hold the dedication ceremony, Karl said it suddenly dawned on him. 

“Tomorrow (Feb. 2) would be dad’s 80th birthday, so this is a birthday party for my dad.”

A dinner followed at the Allen Center.

The Nobel Prize in Economics — officially known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel — was established by Sweden’s Riksbank in 1968 to mark the central bank’s 300th anniversary. The prize is awarded annually for “work of outstanding importance” in the field of economic science, and the winners are selected by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.