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Ada Yonath

  • Israeli scientist
  • Born June 22, 1939

Ada E. Yonath (Hebrew: עדה יונת‎, pronounced [ˈada joˈnat]) (born 22 June 1939) is an Israeli crystallographer best known for her pioneering work on the structure of the ribosome. She is the current director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2009, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz for her studies on the structure and function of the ribosome, becoming the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize out of ten Israeli Nobel laureates, the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel prize in the sciences, and the first woman in 45 years to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.


I was described as a dreamer, a fantasist, even as the village idiot. I didn't care. What I cared about was convincing people to allow me to go on with my work.




At the end of the 1970s, I was a young researcher at the Weizmann Institute with an ambitious plan to shed light on one of the major outstanding questions concerning living cells: the process of protein biosynthesis.




I wanted to reveal how genetic code is translated into protein. I knew a great application could be for antibiotics, since half of the useful ones target the ribosomes, but I didn't believe I could contribute to it. It was like the next Mount Everest to conquer. It was my dream to contribute something to humanity.




My memories from my childhood are centered on my father's medical conditions alongside my constant desire to understand the principles of the nature around me.




My parents were Zionists born in Poland. My father was a rabbi who didn't know much about science and ran a grocery store in the neighborhood with my mother's help.




I don't walk into the lab in the morning thinking, 'I am a woman, and I will carry out an experiment that will conquer the world.' I am a scientist, not male or female. A scientist.




If one has curiosity, then one stands the chance of attain a high level of scientific inquiry.




During my time I had some very difficult years, and I had very pronounced competition, all by men.




Words originating from the verb 'to die' were frequently used when I described my initial plans to determine the ribosome structure.




I used ribosomes from very, very robust bacteria under very, very active conditions and found a way - I actually took advantage of research done before me at the Weizmann, the same institute I am now - how to preserve their activity and their integrity while they crystallized.




It is a great honor for me to be able to express my sincere gratitude to the Nobel Foundation.




My neighborhood didn't really encourage women, though it didn't prevent women from progressing, either.




Problems should be solved by talking and not in an aggressive manner.




From the age of 11, I was cleaning floors, washing dishes, making sandwiches and being a cashier. Survival was the name of the game. Life was so hard that I had to struggle to keep up my standards. Under these conditions, I didn't think about science too much.




The world was not supportive. They look at me as a joke for 13 to 14 years until I could prove feasibility; then I had competitors. Those that laughed at me became my competitors.




The Weizmann Institute showed me respect and didn't require many administrative tasks, so I was quite independent. I did what I wanted.




There are over 7,000 different types of proteins in typical eukaryotic cells; the total number depends on the cell class and function.




I'm truly glad I've managed to get the public interested in questions about basic research.




DNA is a code of four letters; proteins are made up of amino acids which come in 20 forms. So the ribosome is a very clever machine that reads one language and operates in another.




Waiting for me in Stockholm will be a personal assistant - Katrina from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs - as well the secretary of the Swedish Academy. They'll help us with our things and take us to our hotel. From the moment I arrive, I'll always be together with the other two laureates.




Once, when I tried to calculate the height of the balcony, I broke my arm. Another time, I wanted to see if water moves faster than kerosene. When my father came out to smoke, a fire broke out.




For quite a while, I didn't receive a higher academic status. I didn't feel any discrimination against me as a woman scientist, but I hadn't produced a lot of science journal articles.




My kindergarten teacher encouraged me to learn, as did my school headmaster, who gave me a grant to study.




People always talk about the implication and applications of a process, but for me, the goal is purely about knowledge. Knowledge can become practical today, in 20 years, or in 500 years. Ask Newton. He didn't know there would be space research based on his accident with the apple.




After I spent my compulsory army service in the 'top secret office' of the Medical Forces, where I was fortunate to be exposed to clinical and medical issues, I enrolled to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.




Anyone who sits in our jails who is not just a criminal but what we call a terrorist, with or without blood on his hands - and these definitions are also unclear to me - should not be sitting in our custody.




Proteins are constantly being degraded. Therefore, simultaneous production of proteins is required.




The ribosome is a machine that gets instructions from the genetic code and operates chemically in order to produce the product.




People are obsessed with my haircut; everyone wants to do something with my hair before the ceremony. Very senior figures tell me their hairstylist wants to do my hair for free. It's surprising. People from television are interested almost exclusively in aspects of my hair and my hairdresser.




Many ribosomes act simultaneously along the mRNA, forming superstructures called polysomes.




When a man sits in our jails for a number of years, and around him friends and family become angry, that is how we create terrorists.




I am against boycotts in general: boycotts against us as well as anything and everything that can be boycotted.




I don't distinguish between men and women. This is irrelevant to me, and I don't think in these terms.




Even if I tried to fill up the stadium in Ramat Gan, I don't think I could.




I was born in Jerusalem in 1939 to a poor family that shared a rented four-room apartment with two additional families and their children.




I was born in Jerusalem with a religious background and a rabbi as a father... it was rather poor, but what we did have, we did have books.



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