Israeli Scientist Ada Yonath Receives Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Yonath, the first Israeli woman to receive a Nobel Prize, recognized for her study of the structure of ribosomes.

Israeli scientist professor Ada Yonath received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in a ceremony in Stockholm on Thursday. Yonath was chosen to speak on behalf of the chemistry winners at the lavish ceremony, attended by the Swedish royal family.

The Israeli scientist shares the prize with Britain's Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz, an American, for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome, a part of the cell that synthesizes protein and translates genetic code in the production of protein.

"There is a great feeling here," Yonath described her stay in Stockholm Thursday morning. "There is a lot of pleasure in it. I have my entire family here and this is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with them. I can't complain."

Yonath, the first Israeli woman to receive the prize, joined 11 other Nobel laureates in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, economics and literature. U.S. President Barack Obama received his Nobel Prize for peace in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

Yonath visited the home of Israel's ambassador to Sweden, Benny Dagan, for a reception in her honor. Cameras documented her every step. The crowd not only sought to meet her, some of those present asked for her autograph. It's the overnight movie-star status that the Nobel Prize confers on scientists.

"Suddenly you get huge coverage and people love [it]. They love big jumps in status," Yonath told Haaretz during the reception.

A day before, in a lecture for Swedish scientists, Yonath said with a smile that the major difference between her life now and her life two months ago was the huge outpouring of love - and flowers - that she received after the prize was announced.

The embassy reception and the lecture were just a small part of "Nobel Week," intense days when the laureates cycle through news conferences, receptions, concerts and dinner parties throughout the Swedish capital.

Yonath went to Sweden with her daughter Hagit and her granddaughter Noa, and two nights ago, her sister joined them. In addition to family members, former and current students as well as representatives of the Weizmann Institute - where Yonath and two colleagues, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz, discovered the structure of ribosomes that earned her the Nobel Prize - were also in Stockholm.

"It's a very busy week, but it is also very exciting and nice," said Hagit.

Before accepting the prize, Yonath remarked that "at my Nobel lecture, I must admit that I was a little more excited than usual,"adding, "We'll wait and see how I feel."

The Nobel Prize is without a doubt Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel's most successful invention, even more so than dynamite. The prize highlights science and gives scientists public prestige, helping attract young people to scientific research. It also encourages competition among scientists.

"No prize is essential to science," Yonath said, "but without any prize, the anonymity [of science] will simply grow.

"If there is no public recognition, nothing will reach the wider public and the number of good people who want to work in science would not increase and could even decline. A large part of the essence of the prize is not its personal influence on me, but how much the public gets a little taste of science. And every time this happens near you, let's say to Israeli scientists, it contributes something to the future of science."

Some of the aura around the events is connected to the formal dress - coattails for men, and evening dresses for women.

Yonath, who is known for her direct style of speaking, has already suggested improvements to the Nobel committee: "For men, it's very easy. They tell them what to wear and they have no choice. For women, it's a different story," she said, adding, "So I complained to them, telling several committee members, 'Why do the women have to choose which dress to wear and men have it easy?'"