Israeli Nobel Laureates

Israeli Nobel Laureates

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    DanShechtman DanShechtman
    Dan Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2011. Photo: R. Prasad


    Following are the news articles appreared in Indian Media on Israel' Nobel Laureates:

    S & T» Science

    July 9, 2012

    A science enigma in Israel

    Dan Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2011.

    In all, Israel has produced ten Nobel Laureates, of which four were in Chemistry in recent years. Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, where Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman works, is the first and smallest university in the country. Dr. Shechtman won the Noble Prize last year for chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystals.

    It has another distinction as well. “Technion – Israel Institute of Technology has three Nobel Laureates in Chemistry,” said the Laureate to The Hindu during an interaction with journalists at the recently concluded 62nd Nobel Laureates Meeting dedicated to physics from July 1 to July 7 at Lindau, Germany.

                                                                                                                 Photo: R. Prasad
    Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009, two years before Dr. Shechtman.

    Despite being a small country, how has it managed to produce so many Laureates? “I don’t know the answer,” he said frankly. “I think we do good work. I think we encourage young talented people to go to science.”

    Though he was at a loss to pinpoint the reasons, he did throw some light to what may be the factors facilitating his country’s success. “We have very good scientists in Israel. We publish many papers in many reputed journals,” he noted.

    But the distinguishing factor that emerged is the way the scientists interact with their counterparts based in other countries. “We are encouraged to travel to other laboratories in the world,” he said. To facilitate this interaction, very vital for science, the scientists are allowed to avail sabbatical for period extending up to 6 to 7 years. “Every summer, if you want to go and work somewhere, they allow you [to go]. So we have many contacts in the world,” he revealed.

    In fact, it was while Dr. Shechtman was on sabbatical at John Hopkins University and working with the National Bureau of Standards in 1982 that he discovered the existence of quasicrystals.

    Availability of liberal funding is another critical factor. Scientists have several sources of funding to turn to — industrial, defence, government and binational funding. The binational funding comes from binational agreements — Israel-Germany, Israel-United States, Israel-England and others.
    Another peculiar aspect is that the government does not fund universities directly. Instead, it provides fund to intermediate bodies, which in turn fund the universities. “So the government is not directly involved. We [are in touch with] the intermediate bodies and it is excellent,” he underlined.

    “A good scientist who writes a good project proposal has a good chance of securing funding,” he said. “In my department, there are 16 faculty members and everyone has a nice chunk of research funds.”

    But there are problems and all is not conducive to people taking up research. “There are many scientists who cannot find jobs in Israel,” he said. “Israel is a start-up country. Everybody thinks of starting a start-up. The number of start-ups in the country is enormous. The spirit of entrepreneurship is fantastic.”
    According to him everybody communicates with everybody else in Israel. “Communication is good for science. People need to talk,” he said. “All these don’t answer your question [of how a small country is able to produce so many Nobel Laureates]. I understand that. I don’t know what the reason is.”

    Sixteen students from India participated in the 62nd Nobel Laureates Meeting at Lindau. The German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) sponsored their visit.

    (This Correspondent was one of the two journalists from India who participated in the 62nd Nobel Laureates Meeting at Lindau, Germany, at the invitation of the German Research Foundation (DFG) Bonn.)

    July 4, 2012

    A thin line separates science and religion: Dan Shechtman
    R. Prasad
    The definition of crystals had to be changed after the 1984 discovery of quasicrystals by the Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman.
    Photo: R. Prasad
    Unlike religion, science is not dogmatic and is open to revision. “But in the frontiers of science there is not much of a difference between science and religion,” said Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman.

    Prof. Shechtman is from Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. “People have their beliefs and they would not listen.”
    But is that how science should be? “You are absolutely correct. Science should not be this way, because sometimes people are wrong,” the Laureate said. “A good scientist is a humble person who is willing to listen and not somebody who thinks he knows everything.”
    Prof. Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for chemistry last year for his 1984 discovery of quasicrystals (non-repeating regular patterns of atoms). He had used a transmission electron microscope (TEM) to study the quasicrystals.
    “When I published my work many repeated my results and immediately said, hey, we have it,” he said.
    His personal experience convinced him that in the frontiers of science there is little difference between science and religion. “It was a discovery challenging a community of X-ray crystallographers. They were really against me for ten years,” he noted.
    The science of crystallography was defined as X-ray crystallography. Hence all results were to be obtained using X-rays and nothing else. “This community of X-ray crystallographers wanted him to get X-ray diffraction results” before they could accept his results.
    It took his team three years (from 1984 to 1987) to produce the first large enough crystal that is fraction of a millimetre in size. “Only then we could get an X-ray diffraction pattern” he said. The X-ray crystallographers finally accepted his results when he finally presented the X-ray diffraction results at a meeting in Australia. “They redefined crystals. This was a paradigm shift,” he said.
    According to a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences , quasicrystals “fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter.”
    According to the classical definition, crystals can have rotational symmetries of one, two, three, four and six. Five-fold symmetry and symmetries beyond six were thought to be impossible in periodic structures.
    The atoms inside a crystal have to necessarily be packed in a symmetrical pattern so that they are ordered and repeated periodically. But quasicrystals meet only one of the two conditions — they are ordered materials, but the atomic order is quasiperiodic rather than periodic. It is this combination that allows the formation of crystal symmetries, such as icosahedral symmetry.
    Talking about tenacity, he recalled his struggle. “I experienced severe criticism for ten long years,” he said. Those who opposed his results were not experimentalists, and the reason for opposing them was not on scientific grounds. “This cannot be [correct], they said. ‘But this cannot be’ was not based on the second law of thermodynamics but was based on a paradigm,” he said. After all, hundreds of thousands of crystals were studied before and not one of them turned out to be a quasicrystal.
    But Prof. Shechtman took the road less travelled and used a TEM to study quasicrystals. These cannot be found using X-ray diffraction (unless they are grown to at least a fraction of a millimetre) as they are so small. “So the question is why didn’t others see it before I did. It is not because it is not stable or rare or difficult to make,” he asked.
    Using a different tool is only the beginning. “It is not enough to operate a TEM. You must be an expert on TEM. The number of TEM experts is very few,” he said.
    But when he finally observed quasicrystals he did not understand their significance. “I thought what I saw was just an artefact caused by twins. So I was looking for twins that have boundary between crystals giving mirror images. I did not find it and I knew I did not have twins,” he recalled. “Everything happened in just one day on April 8, 1982.”
    Quasicrystals have low heat conductivity and non-stick properties. “It is better than Teflon as it does not stretch,” he said.
    (This Correspondent is one of the two journalists from India participating in the 62ndNobel Laureates Meeting at Lindau, Germany, at the invitation of the German Research Foundation (DFG) Bonn.)

    The man who knew too much

    Damayanti Datta October 14, 2011

    Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman's profile

    Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman
    Shechtman in his lab at the Technion institute of technology, Haifa
    I looked into the microscope and I was stunned. I told myself, Eyn chaia kezo there's no such animal!" This year's Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman, 70, laughs as he recalls his first peek at the new form of matter, quasicrystals, that he discovered on April 8, 1982. The phone line between Delhi and Haifa is weak, but it doesn't hide the remembered joy in his voice: "I scribbled three question marks on my lab logbook and ran out to the corridor to share it with someone."
    What makes Shechtman's story unique is that he did not find anyone to share his knowledge with-that day and for many days to come. Twenty-nine years later, it's the victory of his science that the material scientist prefers to remember. But he is a classic victim of "closed-minded science", where valid research is suppressed if it goes against the conventional grain. "In frontier science, there is not much difference between science and religion," says Shechtman. "I didn't do anything wrong. My ideas were just unique, special and different from mainstream research."
    From "Danny, it can't be" to "Why don't you read this textbook instead" to "You are a disgrace to the team"-he faced disbelief, ridicule, insult, humiliation and dismissal from his peers while at the National Bureau of Standards (National Institute of Standards and Technology now), US, where he was working during a sabbatical from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. He fought long and fierce battles with heavyweight scientists. The going got tough when Linus Pauling, American science icon and a double Nobel laureate, dubbed him a "quasi-scientist" and started a crusade. "He would start conferences by attacking me," says Shechtman. "Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense."
    It was not easy being the target of public attack but Shechtman sought solace in books. Especially, in mit science historian Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. "I was a bookworm since childhood," he says. "My father was a printer and with his encouragement I used to read one book every day." He started following Kuhn's book chapter by chapter, to understand the practice and politics of science and his own predicament. "He wrote before I did my work but it was all about what happens to new discoveries that are against the received beliefs of science."
    Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman
    Shechtman (left) explains the structure of quasi crystals in the US in 1985.
    Why did he face so much opposition? The answer lies in what he discovered. On that fateful morning, the then 41-year-old scientist had switched on a transmission electron microscope (tem). He had developed special expertise to study metallic powders on tem. That day he focused on a rapidly cooled aluminum-manganese alloy to observe it at the atomic level. The science of atomic arrangements in solids, or crystallography, had evolved since 1912 into a "closed chapter", with textbooks mandating that atoms in solids were always packed in circles of 2, 3, 4 or 6 dots. No one expected any revolutionary discoveries to emerge from it. But Shechtman clearly saw 10 bright dots in the crystals in front of him-a symmetry that went against the "laws of nature" and was beyond the International Tables for Crystallography. He counted, recounted and carried out more experiments and finally came to the conclusion that he had discovered something that was contrary to what scientists believed. "I was very sure that I was correct. I trust my science," he says.
    "For the first few years I did not have anybody who believed my results," says Shechtman. Then three of his peers lent support: Ilan Blech of Technion University, John Cahn of nist and Denis Gratias of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. Together they submitted an article to Physical Review Letters and it got published in 1984. "Slowly I formed an emotional community of peers who believed in my science."
    The recognition came first from France. "Indian scientists were also among the first to extend support," he says. Scientists from around the world started calling, many of whom had successfully repeated his experiment. What began as a ripple turned into a tidal wave of activity in crystallography, mathematics, physics, chemistry and material science. By 1986, the first international conference on quasicrystals started and by 1990 a stream of awards and honours started pouring in.
    Shechtman on himself

    Name Conundrum
    Doesn't think quasicrystal is an
    apt name.Prefers "quasi periodic
    material". Some use the term
    "Shechtmanite" in his honour.
    Indian Connect
    Indian scientists were some of
    the first to extend support to him.
    He calls R. Srinivasa of the Indian
    Institute of Science, Bangalore,
    Comfort Read
    Thomas Kuhn's Structure of
    Scientific Revolutions.Read the
    MIT science historian's book to
    understand the fate of discoveries
    that are against the mainstream.
    Family Value
    His grandfather was among the
    founders of socialism in Israel
    and a friend of Israel's first Prime
    Minister,David Ben-Gurion.
    Alternative Career
    Wanted to be an engineer ever
    since he read French writer Jules
    Verne's The Mysterious Island,
    where an engineer turns a deserted
    island into a lush garden.
    Unfulfilled Dreams
    Nothing. "My skies are never too
    high," says the scientist.
    Values Most
    Life itself, clear and free thinking,
    people who support their community,
    arts and literature, everything
    pro-life and civilised.
    Quasicrystals are now being produced in laboratories and marketed for industrial use. France leads in applications and issued the first patents-from surgical needles and razor blades to the coating on kitchenware. Many more inventions and applications are waiting in the wings. "I won't be surprised if shocking discoveries follow. When science opens gates it encourages a wave of innovations," he says. New areas of interest are growing, with artists and architects taking the cue from the aesthetic tiling patterns found at the level of atoms. Shechtman's findings have also been used to analyse medieval Islamic Girih patterns found as early as the 13th century-from the Alhambra Palace in Spain to the Darb-i Imam shrine in Iran.
    Shechtman thinks that he "stumbled upon" his discovery. But he does admit that there are some critical factors that maximise a scientist's chances of making a discovery. "You have to know your science, your field and what you are doing," he says. For instance, a special aptitude for the tem made a difference in his case because that's the only way in which very small quasicrystals could be detected. "Be open to new observations, work toward odd results," he advises aspiring scientists. But that's not all. "You also need very good all-round basic education and proficiency in English, the international language of science. India has a special advantage there." Finally, he believes, one needs courage of conviction to face nonbelievers and defend one's idea.
    Shechtman is the tenth Israeli scientist to win the Nobel Prize and the fourth to win the prize in chemistry. Is there anything singularly Jewish that leads to great science? He believes it's a society that has tremendous respect for learning. "We are also free people, free thinkers and free to argue and give opinions." Shechtman seems to carry the tradition of binary thinking as his heritage: not just the dialectical structure of Talmudic debates but also a socialist grandfather, who migrated from Russia in 1906 and was one of the founders of socialism in Israel. "He was a friend of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and of Izhak Ben-Zvi, our second president," he says.
    In between teaching at Technion, a lifetime of research dedicated to quasicrystals (which he prefers to call "quasi-periodic materials"), rounds of seminars, conferences and lectures across the world, Shechtman leads a full life with his wife, four children and nine grandchildren. He makes jewellery in his leisure and goes sailing. "Despite his struggle, we managed to live a normal life," says wife, Zipora (Zippi), professor and chair of psychology at Haifa University. "He had no time to be angry with the world. He was more interested in convincing people about his work."
    The science that Shechtman started has been vindicated. What does the Nobel mean to him? "It's not just mine but for all the excellent scientists who gave me support and practised quasicrystals all these years. I am carrying it for them."  

    The woman who won the Nobel with Ramakrishnan

    Narayani Ganesh, TNN Feb 13, 2011


    As a Max Planck research scholar in Germany in the early 80s, Ada Yonath either slept in her car or in the laboratory. She wasn't poorly paid, just obsessed . It was a spell that lasted seven years. Yonath found somewhere to live only when her mother announced plans to visit!

    The hard work paid off. In 2009, the septuagenarian professor at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, became the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize. She was also the first woman in 45 years to win it for chemistry. Unsurprisingly , India did not notice; its eyes were fixed on Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the Indian-American microbiologist from Cambridge, who won the Nobel alongside Yonath and Thomas A Steitz of Yale.

    And yet, Yonath's story and passion — is important for everyone, including Indians, to understand why the world is what it is and what it yet could be. Chemistry is the basis of all science, Yonath told TOI on a recent visit to Delhi. "The world is made of compounds; they are made by atoms that are connected together and chemistry can be used to explain biological processes and molecules — we use physics and high level mathematical methods in our research but the answers are from chemistry," she said.

    This is not bombast. Yonath knows what she's talking about. The chemistry Nobel, shared three-ways , was awarded for the detailed mapping of the ribosome's complex structure and function. For those who have forgotten what a ribosome is, it is a cell component and makes protein from amino acids. Crucial, in other words, to life as we know it.

    Yonath and her fellow Prize-winners ' research is potentially all about miracles. All living organisms, including bacteria, have ribosomes and antibiotics are meant to target ribosomes in harmful bacteria rather than in their human hosts. The ribosome's detailed mapping by Yonath-Ramakrishnan-Steitz could help develop better antibiotics to treat diseases like tuberculosis.

    Yonath is not shy to explain the significance of their research. "It has implications for every infectious disease made by bacteria, including tuberculosis," she says.

    But the starting point, Yonath's eureka moment , was relatively low key. She was convalescing after a head injury and idly started to wonder about the winter sleep of polar bears and how they resumed active lives after the long period of inactivity. How, she asked herself , did protein manufacture resume? Clearly , the bears' ribosomes lay dormant but "woke up" on cue. "This led me to believe that the ribosomes had to be packed in an orderly fashion inside the inner membrane of the cells... they were packed like apples, the outer layer protecting the inner . The conditions could be recreated for an orderly assembly of ribosomes."

    Like Ramakrishnan, her fellow Prize-winner , Yonath insists on the importance of science itself rather than the celebrity scientist. "People should go and enjoy science if they enjoy it and if they are really curious; any other reason is not good enough. I take science as a fun game; I enjoy it," she declares.

    But what of all those years of sleeping in her car? Yonath explains it as an important part of the research process. "The car was important because I used to drive miles to get my crystals analyzed — I did try sending them by air but they would get destroyed before they reached the lab as they have to be handled with care. And the trains were infrequent!"

    So what drove her to excel? "Ha!" she exclaims . "I say the concussion did it! I was crazy!" referring to the head injury she had more than 30 years ago.



    Life of polar bears proved spark for Nobel laureate Ada Yonath

    Express News Service  Tue Feb 01 2011
    New Delhi : Israeli Nobel laureate Ada Yonath, who won the award in Chemistry last year, along with Indian scientist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A Teitz, for her studies on the crystal structure and function of the ribosome, said the spark behind her work came from reading about the life of polar bears.
    “I got some reading time due to an injury and luckily I happened to read about about how these creatures hibernate during the extreme cold. When (they) wake up, they have to go back to activities of normal life. This means they need additional proteins, which translates into ribosomes that make the proteins. This led me to believe that the ribosomes had to be packed in an orderly fashion inside the inner membrane of the cells, or else they would have disappeared,” she said.
    Yonath dedicated her lecture during the first academic session of the new year at the AIIMS to the “amazing nature of the ribosome”. The most prominent use of her studies, she said, could be in the area of growing antibiotic resistance.
    The 71-year-old professor, who enthralled the audience with her oratory skills, introduced the concept by talking of eminent personalities like Kafka and Orwell, who lost their lives at relatively young ages from infectious diseases.
    Describing life after winning the Nobel, Yonath showed pictures of a popular fair in Israel, called the Puirm carnival, where neckpieces and wigs in the shape of ribosomes were displayed.
    Yonath said there was a need for youngsters to lose their aversion to science. “You can take care of your family even if you are a scientist. People hate the profession, saying there is no money and involves sleeping in labs,” she said. After she won the Nobel, she said she took it upon herself to go to schools in her country to spread awareness about science.
    “Channel 1, a local media channel in Israel conducted polls among youngsters opting for science before and after I won the prize and found that the numbers had doubled,” she said.
    On her fifth trip to India, the scientists spoke about her experiences with her “rival” and iconic Indian scientist Dr G M Ramchandran. “He was tarvelling with his wife in Israel in 1966 when I was a student, and he came to visit me,” she said.
    She “is glad” she did not follow his ideas then. Over 10 years later, during a New York state meeting, after her crystallisation work was complete, Dr Ramachandran stood up to say ‘I am sorry I was wrong’, she recalled. “He was strong enough to do that. He was a genius according to me, though he was my rival. I am so happy that after his death, his concept was also proven right, and now we are both correct,” she said.

    Ada Yonath, the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel

    October 07, 2009

    Jerusalem: Ada Yonath, who became the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel on Wednesday when she was awarded the Chemistry Prize, was once so poor she could not afford books.

    The 70-year-old won the prize with two US scientists for "mapping the ribosome -- one of the cell`s most complex machineries -- at the atomic level," the Nobel jury said.It marked just how far she has come since her childhood in a poor family in Jerusalem in then British-mandate Palestine.
    "There was nothing in my childhood to suggest that I would reach this point, even though my parents and family have always thought there was a chance of recognition," a weeping Yonath told Israeli public radio.
    She becomes the first Israeli woman to win the prestigious prize and the fourth woman to ever win the Nobel Chemistry prize, including Marie Curie, whose story inspired her to pursue science.
    Yonath is the ninth Israeli ever to get the Nobel and the third to win one in chemistry.
    Moments after the award was announced in Stockholm, Yonath was talking to Israeli President Shimon Peres -- himself a Nobel peace laureate -- who had called to congratulate her.
    The award-winning professor from the Weizmann Institute of Science in the town of Rehovot south of Tel Aviv has devoted her career to the study of the ribosome, which is crucial in the development of new antibiotics.
    Considered a pioneer of ribosome crystallography, she created the first ribosome crystals in 1980 and was the first to note that the ribosome is riddled with internal chambers, according to the US National Institutes of Health website.
    "Our research spun over many years and developed in different directions... every time I thought I was facing a problem the size of the Everest only to discover there was a bigger Everest behind it," she told public radio.
    "The second I cracked the structure (of the ribosome) I was very happy... really, really happy," she said.
    Curious from a young age, Yonath was inspired to study science after reading about Curie.
    "All my life there were experiments. It was just plain curiosity. Once I broke my arm when I fell into the garden trying to measure the height of our balcony," she told an interviewer in 2008.
    "I never thought about me being a woman or not when I did science -- I was just a human being born into an extremely poor family," she once said. "We were so poor we didn`t even have books."
    She is a strong advocate of encouraging more women to get involved in science.
    "Women make up half the population," she says. "I think the population is losing half of the human brain power by not encouraging women to go into the sciences. Women can do great things if they are encouraged to do so."
    "I would like women to have the opportunity to do what is interesting to them, to go after their curiosity. And I would like the world to be open to that. I know in many places there is opposition to that."
    Bureau Report