Ada E. Yonath’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2009
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2009
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to be able to express my sincere gratitude to the Nobel Foundation.
I was asked to represent the 2009 Chemistry laureates, who are three different people. We belong to different nationalities, genders, views and upbringings. However, we share a common passion: to understand how the ribosome makes proteins according to the instructions of the genetic code, an issue to which many more scientists around the world have contributed tremendously.
When I was approached by the Royal Academy, I was advised to benefit from the speech given by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the 1978 Literature Laureate, who started with: “People ask me often, ‘Why do you write in a dying language, Yiddish?'”
Indeed, words originating from the verb “to die” were frequently used when I described my initial plans to determine the ribosome structure. Many distinguished scientists said: ‘why work on ribosomes, they are dead … we know all what can be known about them’, or: ‘this is a dead end road’, or: ‘you will be dead before you get there’. To my satisfaction, these predictions were proven wrong, the ribosomes are alive and kicking (so am I) and their high resolution structures stimulated more advanced studies as well as the imagination of many youngsters, including my granddaughter, Noa, who is showing continuous interest, and invited me at the ages of 5 and 13 to explain to her classes what the ribosome is. Also, there is a new saying in Israel: “Curly hair (like mine) means ROSH MALE RIBOSOMIN, which translates to: head full of ribosomes”. Furthermore, our studies added to the buzz around the lovely Polar Bears, which inspired my own research and are now endangered by the changing climate.
I was also instructed not to use this opportunity for thanking. I have always been known as an obedient person, and thus decided to follow this advice too, but with one exception. I want to thank warmly my dedicated chauffeur, Nisse. Without him I would have been lost in Stockholm, the wonderful, albeit dark city, and consequently miss most of the fascinating events of this magic week.