Telephone interview with Jacques Dubochet after the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on 4 October 2017. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media. Jacques Dubochet explains how his technique of water vitrification has allowed us to observe biomolecules like Zika and Salmonella in their natural state. He also speak about another topic close to his heart – the importance of science in society.
[Adam Smith]: Hello Professor Dubochet?
[Jacques Dubochet]: Yes, I am on the phone!
AS: My name is Adam Smith, calling from Nobelprize.org and congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
JD: [Laughs]. Thank you very much.
AS: It must be quite a day you're suffering.
JD: Yes, it's quite a day but you see I'm still at the University of Lausanne and somebody is taking care of me, voilà, so there ... I just follow what I have to do.
AS: That's nice.
JD: Yes, that's nice.
AS: Ok just a couple of quick questions. You have been awarded, in part because of your development of vitrification of water and people.
JD: That's right.
AS: So people know about liquid water and they know about ice, but I guess most people don't know about vitrified water.
JD: Yes. If you cool water it becomes ice. It would be great if you could cool the water and immobilise the molecules, though keeping the structure because when it's frozen, when it's immobilised you can have it in the electron microscope and the water will not evaporate because in the electron microscope it must be under vacuum, and water at normal temperature evaporates. So that, when it was possible to vitrify biological material, you could have it in the microscope in the vitrified state and observe it quietly in the electron microscope. This was the beginning and so, if you have it in ice, or if you have it without water, the molecules, like fish, are dead.
AS: Yes, beautifully said. And the Nobel Prize will put a lot of attention on you. How do you feel about that and about the responsibility of scientists who interact with the public.
JD: That's interesting. I've been, during the twenty years I was at the University of Lausanne, I have devoted a lot of effort to the curriculum - biology and society - and Lausanne at that time was unique in developing this curriculum for all our students. It was not the kind of additional piece of education, it was a core programme in the study of biology and it still continues. Tomorrow morning I give a talk at that course and the idea of this course is to make sure that our students are as good citizens as they are good biologists. I can tell you that this is very close to my heart.
AS: How wonderful. So in a way for twenty years you've been preparing for this role. [Laughs]
JD: Well, ok. You can guess that today I have a lot of journalists and I do not miss to speak about that.
AS: No, good. Lovely. Can we look forward to welcoming you to Stockholm in December?
JD: Oh I think so. [Laughs] Si Dieu me prête vie. If God is good enough, but I don't mind God.
AS: Good, well we anticipate your arrival with great excitement. Thank you very much indeed and once again congratulations.
JD: I thank you, of course. Goodbye.
JD: Thank you.