Questions and Answers

After the 2007 Nobel Prize announcements, visitors to had the possibility to submit questions to the 2007 Nobel Laureates. Here, Oliver Smithies answers a selection of the questions.

Question: If you would sum up the most important characters of a scientist in three words, what would they be?
Adam Kebede, age 20, Germany

Answer: I can sum it up in two words: “Insatiable curiosity”.

Question: Who, or what, inspired you to enter your field of achievement?
Bobby Cerini, age 34, Australia

Answer: When I was a child I read a comic strip about an inventor and I decided that I wanted to become an inventor, and from then on my field evolved along the course of the natural progression of one’s science. It really began with my invention 50 years or more ago of starch gel electrophoresis, high-resolution electrophoresis that uses starch, and this separated protein molecules more by size than any previous method. Using this method I unexpectedly found that proteins were different in blood plasma proteins in individual humans and that got me into genetics. From that I could move from studying proteins to DNA and then onto isolating clones, and then it began obvious to everyone that it would be nice if we could use a good copy of DNA to correct a bad copy.

Question: In one word, can you describe your reaction when you knew you had been awarded the Nobel Prize?
Young eager student, age 13, United States

Answer: Peace.

Question: Has there ever been a time in your life and/or work when you have doubted what you were doing to the point that you seriously considered abandoning said work? Anna, age 16, United Kingdom

Answer: Many times. There have been many times when you begin work, you struggle with it and after a while you decide that it isn’t going to lead anywhere or it you can’t solve it, and then you give up on that and do something different. In fact, I was doing experiments that I didn’t really care for when I thought of the idea that led to homologous recombination, and so I stopped doing those experiments.

Question: Congratulations for your well deserved awards. My question is: Who, of all the other Nobel Laureates in your field, would you most want to meet and why?
Jim Foley, age 45, United States

Answer: That’s an interesting question; of all the Laureates I have had associations with I probably enjoyed exchanges with Francis Crick more than any other I can think of. We had lots of enjoyable times talking about hypotheses at meetings.   

Question: First of all, congratulations! What will you do with the prize money? You have done something extraordinary to win the Nobel Prize – perhaps you deserve to spend it all on yourself!
Scott MacLeod, age 38, United States

Answer: It has already gone to appropriate places!

Question: At any given time you obviously have several questions in your mind that you want to find answers for in your research. How do you choose which ones to pursue first and spend most of your efforts on?
Nurmukhammad Yusupov, age 30, Uzbekistan

Answer: You probably choose the one that has the best cost-to-benefit ratio in your mind, as it were. That’s to say you know there will always be a certain amount of work and uncertainty about work that you begin to think about, so then you have to ask yourself, “So what am I going to get out of this if I succeed”. You pick the one where the cost is least for the greatest benefit. Amongst the benefits, of course, is whether you will enjoy it … if it’s something you really enjoy and no-one else cares about it then you do it!

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