Telephone interview with Professor Aaron Ciechanover after the announcement of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, October 6, 2004. Interviewer was Joanna Rose, science writer.
– Hello. Is this Aaron Ciechanover?
– Speaking. Yes.
– Yes. My name is Joanna rose and I’m calling from Nobelprize.org, which is the official website of the Nobel Foundation.
– My congratulations to the prize.
– Thank you very much.
– How does it feel now?
– Exhausting. Still hard to digest. Overwhelming. I don’t have words. I’m speechless.
– You are. I hope you can tell us something. Did you expect the message?
– No. Not at all. I was on my way out and my son picked up the telephone and, it was like, it was a complete surprise. I was … certainly not in chemistry. I had some thought of medicine. I’m a physician by education and biochemistry. If I thought of it ever, it was in the direction of medicine and physiology, if at all. Chemistry, total surprise. Absolutely. I was on my way out. If I wouldn’t have been caught within the minute, I would have been out driving my car to some last … it’s the evening of the holiday now in Israel … last arrangements for the holiday.
– Oh, I see. So, what was your first reaction?
– I cannot tell you even. I have to ask my son and my wife that were with me in the room because I came to say ”hello,” that I’m leaving. And, I was caught in total surprise. It’s wonderful. What can I tell you? Obviously, it’s wonderful. That’s the climax that every scientist can ever dream of. I will not deny that I am proud for me, for this science, for the state of Israel, for my family, for everybody. It’s wonderful. But, I’m still digesting it. It’s still not … the word ”Nobel” still doesn’t stick to me.
– I understand. So, can you imagine how this prize is going to affect your future work?
– I truly hope that there will be no effect. Because I love my lab. I love my students. I love my science. I’m in the middle of wonderful work now. There are many more discoveries coming. I’ll try to do my best that there will be no effect whatsoever. So, I believe it will be a little bit of a havoc in the next few months. But I’ll try to quiet it, to silence it as fast as I can.
– Do you have any students that maybe can become Nobel Prize winners in the future?
– I cannot tell you. I have excellent students, and I love them. And I love my technicians. And I love my post-doc fellows, and I love my science.
– Do you have any advice for the young students how to become excellent in science?
– I don’t know. I don’t know how many lessons one can learn from our own one, because it has many ramifications. I think that one is to ask an important question, and in Israel … you know Israel is doing science in a different way than in the United States and even now in Europe. We are a very small country and now involved also in some political chaos in the area, and budgets are limited and science is not first priority … budgeting science. And the Americans are tough competitors. So, it’s so for ourselves, when I was a graduate student with Avram Hershko, the other laureate, and then with Ernie Rose, we saw something that wasn’t in the main focus of science. It was protein degradation. Everybody looked into protein synthesis … into DNA and how the genome is being translated into the proteome. And we said, ”No. Maybe there is something on the other side.” Not that we expected. But, we knew that it must be important. There were some hints that it’s important. And we knew that nobody’s busy with it. So, first of all, we were original I think, in choosing the subject. We didn’t run into the mainstream. So this is one idea. Also, for Israelis … I mean if you want to be competitive, don’t run into the mainstream, because you are doomed to lose. And then, ask something that is important, some major problem that is important. But the idea is to choose something original … for the Israelis, maybe a little bit of a niche. And drive it. And just believe in yourself and do it.
– Do you still cooperate with your colleague, Avram Hershko?
– Not now anymore. But we are in the same building. We are in the same faculty, and we are independent scientists. Actually, it’s even typically unusual that people are coming back to the same institute, because I graduated with him. I was his graduate student. And then I returned to the same institute and it was a problem for me. Because, you know, the problem of identification, how shall I build my own independence? But we managed. But, I’m completely independent. I’m running my own group, my own budget, my own everything. And we write reviews from time to time together.
– Thank you very much and I wish you a nice holiday evening.
– Thank you very much to you too.
– Bye bye.
– Bye bye.