Friday, 9 October 2009

Nobel Prize for Chemistry

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been won by a woman for only the fourth time in its history.

Professor Ada Yonath, from the Weizmann Institute of Science shares the prize with Professor Ramakrishnan of Cambridge and Professor Steitz from Yale. The prize was won for their work on the ribosome's translation of DNA information into life. The significance of this is that ribosomes produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms. As ribosomes are crucial to life, they are also a major target for new antibiotics.

Absolutely crucial to their research was the use of X-ray crystallography.

My all-time hero was Marie Curie who was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. It is thanks to her work that today we have radiation treatment for breast cancer and X-rays for diagnosis. Her story is fascinating and reveals the commitment and dedication added to brilliance which is what characterises leading scientists: genius is not enough.

They were an extraordinary family – she and her husband, Pierre, were awarded half the Physics Prize for their research on the radiation phenomenon which was discovered by Henri Becquerel (who won the other half of the prize). Marie Curie was then awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discoveries and studies of the elements radium and polonium. She is the only woman so far, who has been awarded the Nobel Prize twice.

She was also a single mother – her husband was killed in an accident when their daughters were only eleven and two. She was subsequently made the first woman Professor at the Sorbonne. Their daughter, Irène Curie, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 with her husband Frédéric Joliot, in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements.

An amazing story and links into this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry where the use of X-ray crystallography played such a key role.

Breast Cancer Campaign's logo is a puzzle piece because research is like putting all the pieces of a puzzle together: the pieces are all there, we need to find our how they fit. This week research we supported found another piece of the puzzle which will lead us to better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

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