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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Arieh Warshel, Israeli-American awarded Nobel Prize in chemistry

Arieh Warshel

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Wednesday that Israeli scientist Arieh Warshel, together with scientists Martin Karplus and Michael Levitt, have won this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry for laying the foundation for computer models used to understand and predict chemical processes.

The Swedish academy noted that their research in the 1970s has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves.
"The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton's classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics," the academy said. "Previously, chemists had to choose to use either/or."

Warshel is a US and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Levitt is a British citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine who has also held positions at the Weizmann Institute for many years. Karplus, a US and Austrian citizen is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University.

Warshel told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone that he was "extremely happy" to be awakened in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he had won the prize and looks forward to collecting the award in the Swedish capital in December.

"In short what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does," Warshel said.

In an interview with Israel Army Radio he described the moment he was informed of his win. "I got a phone call at 2:30 am. They didn't have to say anything, once the phone rang, I knew."

Asked about the role Israel plays in his identity he said, "I am partly Israeli. I visit Israel, I feel Israeli. My kids speak Hebrew."

His brother Yigal noted that he left Israel at the age of 34, after serving as a combat signal officer. "He was at the Weizman Institute but said he had better chances of getting ahead overseas, that the salary is better. 

He hasn't lived in Israel for 40 years. I once asked him whether he would ever come back – he said he wouldn't. I guess he's happy there."

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