Two Israeli professors who currently live in the US won the Nobel Prize in
Chemistry Wednesday, sharing the award with an Austrian-American Jewish
Prof. Arieh Warshel, who was born in Israel and now lives in
California, and Prof. Michael Levitt, a South African native who made
aliya and now splits his time between the US and Israel, are sharing the prize –
and the $1.25 million – with Prof. Martin Karplus, an Austrian native who
fled to the US before the Holocaust.
Warshel and Levitt are Israel’s 11th
and 12th Nobel Prize laureates.
Karplus’s daughter Rebecca, a family
doctor who lives in Jerusalem, said on Wednesday evening that she heard of her
father’s winning the Nobel prize on her car radio.
The three men were
cited for their “development of multiscale models for complex chemical
President Shimon Peres called and congratulated Warshel after
the announcement was made, jokingly asking: “How does it feel for a man from the
kibbutz to win a Nobel Prize?” Peres continued: “I want to congratulate you on
behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people and every person who hopes
to overcome sickness and suffering because of your work. I am sure that
your breakthrough will lead to advances in medicine and further scientific
He asked Warshel to convey his congratulations to Levitt
and Karplus, who worked with him and are sharing the prize.
speaking from his home in the the US, told Peres about the years of research
that led to the breakthrough and thanked the president for his warm
“I was born on Kibbutz Sde Nahum. After my military service, I
studied at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology [in Haifa] and then the
Weizmann Institute of Science [in Rehovot],” he said. “After that we began to
build unique models to better understand biological systems. The discovery
itself was in 1975, but it took many years to prove.”
Binyamin Netanyahu also called Warshel to congratulate him.
he wished the the Israeli-born Warshel, who is a professor at the University of
Southern California in Los Angeles. “You are doing great things. It is
exceptionally impressive, and we are proud of you, proud of people who were at
the Technion and the Weizmann Institute and advanced those places. I will be
happy to meet you when you come to Israel.”
Warshel told Netanyahu that
the research that earned him the prize was conducted in his native
Levitt, a British, Israeli and American citizen, lauded Israel’s
tradition of winning Nobel prizes.
“Israel has traditionally had a very
strong focus on education,” Levitt told The Jerusalem Post
, on Wednesday, saying
he is “very pleased” at its tradition of producing Nobel laureates.
is wonderful,” he said, “I think it’s important to continue that tradition, and
I imagine it will.”
The Weizmann Institute, where Levitt is a visiting
professor and where Warshel graduated from decades ago, issued a statement
saying: “We extend our hearty congratulations to the new winners of the Nobel
Prize in Chemistry, 2013. Two of the three new laureates have strong ties to the
Weizmann Institute, and their work on the use of computers to map chemical
reactions of large molecules such as enzymes on the atomic scale was first
developed at the Weizmann Institute.
“They began their scientific
collaboration in the 1960s at Weizmann, where Warshel was a doctoral student,”
the statement continued. “The two of them worked with the late Prof. Shneior
Lifson in the chemical physics department.
Together, they developed a
computer program that ran on the institute’s Golem computer – a powerful device
in those days – to model molecules. This program had special relevance for large
After completing his doctorate, Warshel went to
work with Karplus at Harvard University, where they modeled retinal, the visual
pigment, succeeding for the first time to combine classical modeling of the
molecule with the quantum physics that could give them a glimpse into how it
Warshel and Levitt reunited at the Weizmann Institute in 1972.
According to the Nobel website, “Levitt and Warshel aimed high.” They developed
a computer program that was “revolutionary because it could be used for any kind
They also found a way to make the program more efficient,
by focusing on the more interesting parts of the molecule. They went on to make
seminal contributions to the field of computational biology by performing
simulations to study how proteins work.
Levitt was born 1947 in Pretoria,
South Africa. He received his PhD in 1971 from the University of Cambridge and
was a member of the Weizmann faculty in the late 1970s and early
Today, he is a professor in cancer research at the Stanford
University School of Medicine in California.
Karplus, born in 1930, has a
BA from Harvard University and a PhD from the California Institute of
He is the Theodore William Richards Emeritus professor of
chemistry at Harvard University.
The double Israeli win offered some
consolation here after Hebrew University professors Howard Cedar and Aharon
Razin did not win the Nobel Prize for Medicine on Monday or the Chemistry Prize
Cedar and Razin – who had made fundamental discoveries
about DNA methylation and gene expression related to cancer – had last week been
tipped as “possible winners” by Thomson Reuters.Michael Wilner in
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.