STOCKHOLM - Professor Ada Yonath received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in Stockholm yesterday, in a festive ceremony attended by the Swedish royal family. Yonath stepped onto the stage at about 6 P.M. Israeli time, received the golden Nobel medal from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf himself, to the sounds of a trumpet and thunderous applause. Yonath, born in Jerusalem 1939, is the first Israeli woman to win the prize.
Yonath has already won over several people in the city, including twins who have met quite a few laureates.
At 10:00 yesterday morning, Michael Pieterson stood in alley by the Stockholm concert hall trying to persuade Nobel laureates to autograph the clean sheet of paper he handed out to them. Nearby was Matthias Pietersen, his twin brother. The Swedish duo have been collecting laureate signatures for 30 years, and they know to obtain the best results they must be outside the hall in the morning, during the dress rehearsal.
Professor Willard Boyle, one of the three laureates in Physics, emerged from a black Volvo limousine and happily signed the sheets. The sheets promptly go into neatly organized files. The limousines kept rolling in. Elinor Ostrom, laureate in Economics, brushed the twins aside, while Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, one of Israeli Prof. Ada Yonath's two co-laureates in Chemistry, was happy to oblige.
The two competing collectors agreed that none of the laureates was as friendly as the Israeli crystallographer.
"She's very amicable and very direct," Michael Pietersen declared. "She even let me take her photograph."
The two are true collectors. They never sell the autographs, but bind them together in special books they keep at home, year after year. The brothers say it was a lot easier in the 1970's, when you could approach the laureates' hotel and catch them for a chat. Today, security is much tighter.
Herta Muller, laureate in Literature, arrives at the concert hall and pointedly refuses to sign.
"She would only sign her books, not some scraps of paper," Matthias said. "I guess it's a commercial thing."
There's hardly Nobel fever in the Stockholm streets, but local media are providing extensive coverage of the laureates and the events. Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet crowned the Chemistry trio - Yonath, Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz - the "real laureates", since the three sat by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf. In fact, Yonath sat directly to his right at last night's ceremony. All newspapers took particular notice of the highest-ever number of women laureates, five out of 13.
"This certainly reflects the increasing importance of women in science," Mans Ehrenberg, the Nobel Committee member who presented the award to Yonat told Haaretz shortly before the ceremony, "but this wasn't part of our consideration. The awards are given on scientific merits alone."
Ehrenberg said Yonath was "an extraordinary woman who showed extraordinary determination for so long."
Some 1,300 guests attended the ceremony, which began in the afternoon, though it was already dark. The stage was adorned with white and green flowers flown from the Italian town of San Remo, where Alfred Nobel died in 1896.