Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013 Awarded to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—October 9, 2013—The Weizmann Institute of Science extends its hearty congratulations to the new winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2013. Two of the three new laureates have strong ties to the Weizmann Institute, and their work on the use of computers to map chemical reactions of large molecules such as enzymes on the atomic scale was first developed at Weizmann.

Profs. Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt began their scientific collaboration in the 1960s at the Weizmann Institute, where Prof. Warshel was a doctoral student. The two of them worked with the late Prof. Shneior Lifson in the Department of Chemical Physics. Together, they developed a computer program that ran on the Institute’s Golem computer – a powerful device in those days – to model molecules. This program had special relevance for large biological molecules.

After completing his PhD, Prof. Warshel went to work with the third winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Prof. Martin Karplus, at Harvard University. They modeled retinal, the visual pigment, succeeding – for the first time – at combining classical modeling of the molecule with the quantum physics that could give them a glimpse into how it works.

Profs. Warshel and Levitt reunited at the Weizmann Institute in 1972. According to the Nobel site, “Levitt and Warshel aimed high.” They developed a computer program that was “revolutionary because it could be used for any kind of molecule.” They also found a way to make the program more efficient, by focusing on the more interesting parts of the molecule. They went on to make seminal contributions to the field of computational biology by performing simulations to study how proteins work.

Prof. Michael Levitt is a British and Israeli citizen. He was born 1947 in Pretoria, South Africa. He received his PhD in 1971 from the University of Cambridge, U.K. He was a member of the Weizmann Institute faculty in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and is currently the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor in Cancer Research, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA. Prof. Levitt is a visiting professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Prof. Arieh Warshel is a U.S. and Israeli citizen. He was born 1940 in Kibbutz Sde-Nahum, Israel. He received his PhD in 1969 from Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, and was a senior scientist at the Institute from 1972-1978. He is a distinguished professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA.