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Monday, December 28, 2009


Dear (s)

The Nobel Prize would not attract the headlines in newspapers and not much about Chemistry though it is one of the five prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1985 and awarded every year for outstanding contributions in Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Peace and Physiology or medicine.

The first Nobel Prize in Chemistry   -  was awarded in 1901 to Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff, of the Netherlands, "for his discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions. This year more about Nobel was read in this part of the World, primarily because Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was awarded this and Nobel laureate was born in Chidambaram / Tamilnadu / India in 1952. He is a structural biologist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England and received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome". Ribosomes are the components of cells that make proteins from amino acids. One of the central tenets of biology is that DNA makes RNA, which then makes protein.

We try to find strings and somehow attached to everything of fame and suddenly everyone started celebrating his success and tried to reach him in some manner. He has visited Chennai before and recently at University of Madras, he inaugurated the A.L. Mudaliar Centre for Basic Science Development and interacted with students. He started off telling that he cannot speak much in native language Tamil for he had left Chennai very early. It was reported that he had delivered lecture last year when the auditorium with capacity of 300 was more than half empty but this time it was jam packed. He claimed that he continued to the same person doing the same science and people are so impressed when some academy in Sweden confers an award.

When asked as to how students could aim to emulate him and “win a Nobel for India,” Dr. Ramakrishnan answered emphatically: “That is the wrong question to ask…You can’t go into science thinking of a Nobel Prize. You can only go into science because you’re interested in it.” As a Physics student who moved into the field of Biology, Dr. Ramakrishnan is wry about winning the prize for chemistry. “If I were to take an undergraduate chemistry exam, I would probably fail,” he said. “The ribosome does amazing chemistry, but I’m not a chemist…I’ve just learnt enough to work on my problem.”  He stated that the euphoria would die down in few months and sudden fame is a bad thing. His golden words were that when one becomes famous, people expect to have words of wisdom on subjects outside one’s expertise.

He declined to answer too many questions or offer advice on the Indian scientific education system, saying he simply didn’t know enough about it. He also refused the responsibility of being a role model for Tamil Nadu’s students simply because he lived here till the age of three. “It’s not about where you were born, or where you come from that makes you a good scientist. What you need are good teachers, co-students, facilities,” he said. “I honestly don’t think my roots have much to do with it. I’m sure this won’t make me popular, but this is what I think.”

But for his fame, all these words would certainly be construed as somebody having a bloated ego and somebody mocking at the society but this man certainly tries to be humble. This article from Dinamalar makes very interesting reading.

Ramkrishnan will be spending the rest of the year in Chennai after which he'll head back home. He also plans to make regular visits to the Margazhi music concerts along with his father.

Regards – S Sampathkumar.

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