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June 22: The First Israeli Woman Nobelist

June 22, 2013

yonath-1315814944Ada E. Yonath, the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize (in Chemistry, 2009, with Venki Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz), was born into hard poverty in Jerusalem on this date in 1939. Yonath pioneered the investigation of the ribosome, the molecular complex that synthesizes proteins within all living cells. In 1970, she established Israel’s first protein crystallography laboratory, where she refined the methods of examining the arrangement of atoms in solids. “The tasks of preparing suitable ribosomal crystals for diffraction, and of interpreting the resulting X-ray diffraction patterns from such large and unsymmetrical entities, were at first widely viewed as impossible,” writes Adam Smith at the official website of the Nobel Prize. “. . . But in 1980 Ada Yonath, working with the ribosomes of heat-loving bacteria that she thought might be especially robust, succeeded in preparing the first useful crystals . . . This marked the beginning of two decades of intense activity during which better and better crystals and images were obtained.” Her work has been of major import in the design of new antibiotics, particularly for drug-resistant bacteria. She has also been outspoken on peace issues in Israel, calling on her government in the year of her prize, to release all Palestinian prisoners: “If we hold [them] captive for years on end, their families’ resentment for Israel will grow and we are actively creating terrorists.” To see her short, funny Nobel banquet speech (and the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony), click here.

“Survival is far more complicated, much more demanding (than working in science). You can always try another approach; even change your subject when a scientific strategy or experiment fails. But when you are hungry you are hungry!” —Ada Yonath

JEWDAYO ROCKS! Howard Kaylan, lead singer of the Turtles, was born in New York on this date in 1947. Below, see a 1968 live version of one of their more tolerable (and almost ecstatic) songs, “Elenore.” Also, Steven Page, lead singer and songwriter for Barenaked Ladies, was born in Scarsborough, Ontario on this date in 1970. To see their video of “The Old Apartment,” look further below.