“This is the best tool to see how molecules are working”
Transcript of the telephone interview with Arieh Warshel following the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on 9 October 2013. The interviewer is Nobelprize.org’s Adam Smith.
[AS] Oh hello may I speak to Arieh Warshel please?
[AS] Hello my name’s Adam Smith, calling from Nobelprize.org, the website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm.
[AS] We have a tradition of recording very short interviews with new Laureates. Could we speak for just a couple of minutes?.
[AW] Of course, yes.
[AS] Thank you very much. Well first of all congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
[AW] Thank you, thank you very much
[AS] What were you doing when the call from Stockholm came?
[AW] I was sleeping! It’s two o’clock, so it’s traditional to sleep here.
[AS] Did you wake up enough to realise what was happening immediately?
[AW] Once my wife said … once I heard the phone I realised that it could be either a prank or a call from the Committee.
[AS] (laughs) And what was your first reaction on hearing the news?
[AW] I was … really, really happy.
[AS] It must be very nice to be linked together with Martin Karplus, and particularly Michael Levitt, with whom you’ve worked so closely.
[AW] Yes, particularly with Mike, yes.
[AS] Because you two follow similar paths, travelling around and collaborating very closely.
[AW] Yes, since the late sixties, yes. We travel a lot and we are very good friends.
[AS] You’re part of quite an extraordinary scientific family tree. You were, for instance, a postdoc in Martin Karplus’ lab and he worked with Linus Pauling, so it goes back, doesn’t it?
[AW] Yeah, also my PhD mentor ‘postdoc’d’ for Peter Debye.
[AS] Indeed, indeed. And do you think all that matters? Do you think it’s all very important in pushing one in the right direction?
[AW] Um, not in my case, because I never knew which direction to take (laughs), so … when I moved to the MRC [Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge UK] (it was ’75), it helped to push in this direction, but originally, I’m not sure.
[AS] So we just spoke to Michael Levitt and he was saying how people still don’t really realise how important computers are in science, not just in analysis, but in experimentation.
[AW] Correct. They not only don’t realise, they essentially …some of them have strong objections to them, they believed that computers could be used only to [line breaks up] movies, but not to understand.
[AW] The major … there is a major difficulty to see that this is the best tool we have [to see how] molecules are working.
[AS] And so do you think the award of the Nobel Prize will help promote the cause, if you like?
[AW] Absolutely. I think that, like in the field of understanding enzymes, it’s extremely convenient to ignore careful computations, but once they get their notoriety, it will become much clearer that this is … I keep writing … it’s the best tool to understand what really happens inside the biological molecule. Yes, so I think it will help enormously
[AS] Thank you, thank you. And then, may I just ask you, who were you proudest about telling the news to? (laughs)
[AW] Em. I think my wife but she heard it before me and … No, I think just my family
[AS] That’s fine, that’s a lovely answer. Okay, thank you so much. Once again, congratulations, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Thank you
[AW] Thank you very much
[AS] Pleasure. Thank you
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