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Six Jews Win Nobel Prizes

October 10, 2013 By:
JTA and JE Staff
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From left, Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Jewish scientists and doctors dominated three of the five Nobel prize categories announced so far this week:

  • Medicine: James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman (along with non-Jew Thomas Sudhof)
  • Chemistry: Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel
  • Physics: Francois Englert (along with Peter W. Higgs)

Established by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895, the annual awards are given in recognition of cultural or scientific advances in six categories. Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, who is not Jewish, won this year's prize in literature. The Nobel Peace was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and an associated prize in economics will be announced in the coming days, determined by a majority vote by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

 

The trio of chemists won the prize for "the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems” because “computer models mirroring real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today," the Royal Swedish Academy said in a statement. "Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube. Simulations are so realistic that they predict the outcome of traditional experiments.”

Warshel, 74, received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the Technion Institute in Haifa, and his master's degree and doctorate in chemical physics from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. He joined the University of Southern California faculty in 1976, where he is a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. 

Levitt, a native of Pretoria, South Africa, was a professor at the Weizmann Institute in the 1980s and reportedly took Israeli citizenship, the Times of Israel reported. He teaches at Stanford University.

Karplus, of the University of Strasbourg in France and Harvard University, is the son of secular Jewish parents who were well respected in the Austrian capital of Vienna. In 1938, he fled with his parents from the advance of the Nazis.

In physics, Englert, 80, a Belgian Jewish professor at Tel Aviv University and a Holocaust survivor, shared the prize with Higgs of Britain for their discovery of the Higgs particle. 

Englert is a Sackler professor by special appointment at Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy and has maintained "close research ties" there, university officials said. 

The Higgs particle, known as the “God particle,” is said to have caused the Big Bang. Scientists confirmed the discovery of the Higgs particle, or Higgs boson, which Higgs first theorized in 1964, while working with the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2004, Englert, Higgs and Robert Brout won Israel’s Wolf Prize, which is seen as a stepping-stone to the Nobel.

In medicine, Jewish Americans Rothman of Yale University and Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, joined German-born researcher Sudhof of Stanford University in winning the prize for their research on “vesicle traffic” — how proteins and other materials are transported within cells.

Of the 862 Nobel laureates since 1901, at least 193 of them have been Jewish, according to jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Find short biographies of them here

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