Two Israeli scientists win Nobel Prize in Chemistry


Michael Levitt, Martin Karplus & Arieh Warshel win Nobel Prize for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.

All 3 scientists are Jewish, while Levitt & Warshel hold Israeli citizenship.

By Ido Efrati and



Three Jewish scientists – two of them Israelis who emigrated to the U.S. – won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday.

All three winners are U.S. citizens, but also hold dual citizenships. Warshel and Levitt are Israeli citizens and both studied at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and the prior was also educated at the Technion. Austrian-born Karplus had fled the Nazis to the U.S. as a child. The Nobel prize was awarded to them on the basis of their research at American universities.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday said, upon awarding the prize of 8 million crowns ($1.25 million), that their research in the 1970s has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves.


Israeli scientist and Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate Arieh Warshel. Photo by Wikipedia

“The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton’s classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics,” the academy said. “Previously, chemists had to choose to use either/or.”

Karplus, a U.S. and Austrian citizen is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. Levitt is a U.S., Israeli and British citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Pretoria-born Levitt, immigrated to Israel aged 35 in 1983. He married an Israeli, and worked a few years at the Weizmann Institute until he left for Stanford University in California.

Warshell completed his undergraduate studies in chemistry at Technion Institute in Haifa in 1966. From there he went on to the Weizmann Institute, where he completed his doctorate in three years, finishing in 1970. Between 1972 and 1976 he was a researcher at the chemistry faculty, in the Department of Structural Biology. He left in the 70s to go to the U.S. According to one of his fellow students at the Technion, Professor Shammai Speiser, this was because he couldn’t get tenure at the Weizmann Insitute.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Wednesday, Warshell’s wife said that her husband “didn’t know how to market himself well enough for Israeli academia.”

Chemistry was the third of this year’s Nobel prizes. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of businessman and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

Israel has an impressive showing when it comes to Nobel winners, with 11 laureates in its 65-year history. Most recently, Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2011, just two years after Ada Yonath won the same award in 2009. Other Israelis to have won the prestigious prize in Chemistry were Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko in 2004.

Three Israeli politicians have also won the Nobel Prize for peace – Menachem Begin in 1978, and Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.

The other Israeli Nobel laureates are Robert Aumann and Daniel Kahneman, who won the prize in economic sciences in 2005 and 2002 respectively, and Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who won the prize in literature in 1966.

On Tuesday, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Peter Higgs of Britain and Francois Englert of Belgium for a theory each of them proposed independently of one another in 1964.

Their theory, about how subatomic particles that are the building blocks of matter get their mass, made headlines last year when it was confirmed by the discovery of the Higgs particle, which originates from an invisible field that gives particles mass. This theoretical understanding is a central part of the so-called Standard Model, which describes the physics of how the world is constructed.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which was announced Monday, honored breakthroughs in understanding how key substances are moved around within a cell. That process happens through vesicles, tiny bubbles that deliver their cargo within a cell to the right place at the right time. Disturbances in the delivery system can lead to neurological diseases, diabetes or immunological disorders.

The medicine prize was shared by Americans James E. Rothman of Yale and Randy W. Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley; and German-American Dr. Thomas C. Sudhof, of the Stanford University School of Medicine at Stanford University.

Following the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday, the Swedish Academy will reveal its choice for the literature award on Thursday and a Norwegian committee will name the winner or winners of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. That award is always announced in Oslo, in line with the wishes of prize founder Alfred Nobel. This year’s Nobel season ends with the economics award on Monday.


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