Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Although researchers had figured out how cells produce various proteins, the mechanism to remove and recycle them was unknown. Professor Aaron Ciechanover, along with Profs Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose, discovered that a small protein called ubiquitin marks old proteins for destruction.
For their seminal work, Prof Ciechanover and his colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004. Prof Ciechanover, who is Israel’s first Nobel Laureate in science along with Prof Hershko, noted: “The protein recycling mechanism is as novel as it is specific. It removes only damaged proteins and those that are not needed anymore, sparing all remaining ones.”
A physician by training, Prof Ciechanover has continued to study the link between ubiquitin and diseases such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. He is currently the Technion Distinguished Research Professor in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Medicine.
In cancer, he is trying to manipulate the ubiquitin system so that it helps to suppress tumours. “Cancer cells have high nutrient demands. We are developing a drug to tweak the ubiquitin system, alter the environment in which the cancer cells are growing, so that the system stops providing cancer cells with nutrients,” he explained.
Prof Ciechanover is also a member of many scientific academies, including the Israel National Academy of Sciences and Humanities, European Molecular Biology Organisation, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (as a Foreign Fellow), Chinese Academy of Sciences (as a Foreign Member) and Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.
Apart from the Nobel Prize, his awards include the 2000 Albert Lasker Award, 2002 EMET Prize, 2003 Israel Prize for Biology and 2006 Sir Hans Krebs Medal.
He wants young scientists to realise that they can make a difference in science and society. He said: “Scientific achievements are not made by magicians, but by people like you and me. We can all make discoveries that are beneficial to society. If I could do it, there is no doubt that you can do it, and do it even better.”
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
As a young scientist, Prof Yonath directed that curiosity to the mystery surrounding protein biosynthesis. She wanted to determine the structure of the ribosome, an intracellular machinery that reads the genetic code and produces proteins. This was not only a huge feat, but one deemed impossible as established scientists had already tried to do so and failed. In fact, Prof Yonath was met with ridicule and disbelief from the scientific community, with some calling her a dreamer and others a fool.
She continued on anyway, seeing the shortcomings of others as a source of comfort and not distress. She thought, “If I fail too, then I’m no worse than the best scientists.” It is this perseverance and her innate curiosity that made her succeed, eventually winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 (shared with Professors Thomas Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan) for her studies on the 3D structure of the bacterial ribosome. This made her the first, and to date the only, Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize.
But it is not only perseverance and curiosity that got her to the summit of success. In the late 1970s, Prof Yonath met the late Professor Heinz-Günter Wittman, former head of Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, who was also passionate about how ribosomes work. This marked the start of a 25-year collaboration, which she says contributed enormously to her work. She mentions, “Without this collaboration, I’m not sure I could have done it.”
Prof Yonath still works on ribosomes to this day. Discovering the ribosomal structure only led to more questions on the mechanisms of action of ribosomes and how antibiotics can block these actions. Now collaborating with different groups, her work paves the way for improving existing antibiotics and creating better ones. She has expressed that although collaborations are not always necessary, they are wonderful when they happen.
When asked how she sustains her interest in her work, she emphasised curiosity as a driving force. To young scientists, she offers this advice: They must love what they do and they must have a question to answer.
Along with the 2009 Nobel Prize, Prof Yonath has been awarded the 2002 Israel Prize, the 2008 Albert Einstein World Award of Science, the 2010 Wilhelm Exner Medal and the 2011 Marie Curie Medal. In 2020, she became a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.
When asked to explain her research in a tweet, Dr Alison Woollard smiles and says, “Worming around in biology for cool stuff.” Pun intended. She is a Fellow in Biochemistry at Hertford College, University of Oxford and Associate Professor in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Oxford, where she heads the Cell Biology, Development and Genetics research theme and leads a group working on C. elegans (roundworms) genetics.
According to Dr Woollard, her career trajectory in developmental genetics was shaped by three experiences: working with the late Dr Simon Wolff in his research lab, doing her PhD with Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse, and experiencing the generosity of the late Nobel Prize winner Sir John Edward Sulston during her postdoctoral years. Thanks to these encounters, she fell in love with genetics and C. elegans, and realised just how important collaboration is in science. She also emphasises the value of having good mentors, the idea of seeing science as a craft, and the reminder that good science is not selfish: “This [science] is a craft. I’m a craftsman, and I’m going to pass on my craft to the next generation.”
Dr Woollard’s collaborations are not limited to the academic field. She also works with the industry, including a collaboration with a start-up interested in using C. elegans as a drug discovery model in neurodegenerative disease. She says it might sound mad, but crazy science is “where the discoveries happen.” She remembers this particular collaboration fondly, highlighting the excitement about working with such a small company.
Along with research, Dr Woollard is highly passionate about science communication. She has always loved explaining concepts simply, but it was not until the 2013 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series “Life Fantastic” that her public engagement journey really started. There, she had her eureka moment.
She recalls how it went: She was explaining an ordinary technique that scientists commonly use in the lab, when she realised that the cameraman had stopped filming to stare at her. He could not believe that such things were possible and was so intrigued that he put his work down to ask her more about the science. For both Dr Woollard and the cameraman, this was a transformational moment. It was then that she realised how important science communication truly was.
Dr Woollard believes in science communication as a way to not just share science, but to democratise it. She says that it is about everyone feeling like they have an equal stake in where science takes us. To young scientists, she gives this advice on how to communicate their science better: “Tell a story. It’s all about telling a story. Stories are what make us human.”
For her public engagement activities, Dr Woollard was awarded the 2015 JBS Haldane Award and appointed as the University of Oxford’s Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research.
Optimal transport theory is used to calculate the most “cost-effective” way of moving resources from where they are found to where they need to be. Historically, it dates to 1781, when the French government wanted the most economical way of moving soil from one area to another. Prof Figalli has always found the theory’s versatility fascinating, as it can be applied to various fields, more recently in single-cell genomics. His latest research involves using the theory to optimise machine learning.
Prof Figalli has always loved mathematics, but his turning point came when he joined the International Mathematical Olympiad at 16. Mathematics became more dynamic and exciting, as creative thinking was needed to tackle the more complex problems. Coming from a school that specialises in the study of classics, he suddenly found himself surrounded by peers who shared his passion for numbers. He decided to further his studies at the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, where he completed his doctorate in a single year.
Always a keen learner, Prof Figalli enjoys immersing himself in subject areas unrelated to his field. After all, his collaboration with Professors Francesco Maggi and Aldo Patrelli that culminated in their breakthrough 2010 paper on optimal transport theory began when he attended Prof Maggi’s talk on isoperimetric inequalities. To date, Prof Figalli has collaborated on more than 130 papers with different researchers—a prodigious output for any mathematician.
When asked about his most impactful collaborations, Prof Figalli said, “The most memorable collaborations gave rise to my best results.” He sees teamwork as valuable in attempting complex mathematical challenges that may take a long time to solve. Months and years spent on discussing the problem and various approaches can foster friendships and build a support system of equally passionate individuals. He also believes that working with others can expose one to new and diverse methods, broadening one’s mind.
Additionally, passion and the ability to deal with failures are two vital traits for any researcher, according to Prof Figalli. He advises young scientists to love their work and to see failures—which tend to be more frequent than successes in research—as opportunities to learn: “The learning process is sometimes more valuable than the solution itself.”
Prof Figalli is presently with ETH Zurich, Switzerland as Professor of Mathematics and Director of the Institute for Mathematical Research (FIM). He has won a string of awards in addition to the Fields Medal, including the 2020 Falling Walls Award in Engineering and Technology. In 2018, he was made a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
Sir Andre Geim
Nobel Prize in Physics
From introducing the concept of Friday night experiments to co-discovering graphene, Sir Andre Geim is a prolific physicist with many ‘firsts’. He is also the only recipient of both the Nobel Prize and the Ig Nobel Prize, the latter of which he accepted in 2000 for using magnetism to levitate frogs. When asked about the motivation behind his scientific pursuits, Sir Andre highlights the necessity of collaboration and curiosity to advance knowledge and make discoveries.
Sir Andre has been with the University of Manchester since 2001, and is currently the Regius Professor and Royal Society Research Professor at the university’s National Graphene Institute. His breakthrough with graphene came about during one of his many famous Friday night experiments with his research partner, Sir Konstantin Novoselov. Still practised to this day at the university, these sessions involve ‘amateur’ research that is driven by pure interest. While not all pursuits during these sessions have led to groundbreaking discoveries like graphene, Sir Andre never considers them fruitless. He believes they keep science interesting and satiate his ceaselessly curious mind, particularly when he gains new insights from working with individuals of different expertise.
For their collaborative work on graphene, Sir Andre and Sir Konstantin were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. According to the Nobel Prize committee, “A material consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice and only one-atom thick was long considered a purely theoretical construction. They produced this material and mapped its properties. With graphene, they have written themselves into the annals of science.”
Both scientists have continued their collaboration to uncover the astonishing qualities of graphene. A flexible material that is much stronger than steel and a fantastic conductor of electricity and heat, graphene has found wide applicability, including making superfast computer chips and creating quantum dots to deliver medical drugs more effectively.
For his contributions to science, Sir Andre has received multiple awards in addition to the Nobel Prize, including the 2011 Niels Bohr Medal, the 2013 Copley Medal and the 2016 Carbon Medal. He was knighted in the Netherlands in 2010 and in the United Kingdom in 2012.
Offering advice to up-and-coming researchers, Sir Andre encourages them to pursue research that satisfies not only their personal curiosity but also that of the human race—research should be both impactful and purposeful. He also believes young researchers should be more adventurous in exploring novel areas of research to stand out in the competitive fields of science.
Barry James Marshall
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Barry James Marshall is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at the University of Western Australia and Director of its Marshall Centre for Infectious Diseases Research and Training. But he is best known for two other things: infamously, for drinking bacteria, and famously, for winning a Nobel Prize with Professor Robin Warren. To Prof Marshall’s regard, the latter was a consequence of the former.
It was during a hospital rotation in 1981 when Prof Marshall met Prof Warren at the Royal Perth Hospital (RPH). Prof Warren was working on stomach ulcer patients who showed curved bacteria in their stomach biopsies but had no diagnosis. This piqued Prof Marshall’s interest because bacteria do not usually survive in the acid-filled stomach. When they found that all ulcer patients had a particular bacterium, Prof Marshall’s interest only increased. And so began their work on Helicobacter pylori, an endeavour that would win them the Nobel Prize 20 years later.
Prof Marshall also collaborated with other researchers, highlighting his years at the Fremantle Hospital as happy and productive. Here, he confirmed his findings obtained at the RPH that most peptic ulcer patients have H. pylori. As more scientists worldwide obtained results that supported his, it became a remarkable, encouraging and highly collaborative time for Prof Marshall.
But with this recognition came criticism and disbelief. To prove his work, Prof Marshall needed an animal model, but after many unsuccessful attempts to infect one, he decided to use himself. He drank a bacterial suspension, became sick and took a gastroscopy to clarify his diagnosis. With this, he demonstrated that H. pylori causes acute gastritis that can lead to the development of ulcers. Notably, his 2005 Nobel Prize with Prof Warren was “for their discovery of the bacterium H. pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.”
Prof Marshall’s work is built on collaboration. Importantly, he explains that collaboration is about creating value for both sides. “No science is too difficult to understand—you just need to find the person who knows it and can explain it to you. In turn, you also have to think of what value you can create for them.” To young scientists, he also says to do what they like and what they think is interesting and to not worry too much about it.
At present, Prof Marshall is developing new diagnostics and treatments to target H. pylori. He also heads the Noisy Guts Project, which aims to develop an acoustic belt that can record gut sounds that can be used for non-invasive diagnostics and the monitoring of gut problems.
His other awards include the 1994 Warren Alpert Prize, 1995 Albert Lasker Award, 2002 Keio Medical Science Prize and 2003 Australian Centenary Medal. He is also the Ambassador for Life Sciences for Western Australia.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
This pivot to research felt serendipitous to Prof Kobilka, whose interest in science began as early as high school. While he first saw science as a way into medical training, he eventually spent weekends and summers in labs during college, pursuing various research projects. At medical school, his passion for research soon outweighed his interest in clinical practice.
Prof Kobilka was interested in G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs)—membrane proteins that are responsible for the body’s intracellular responses to external stimuli. The lab’s primary focus was on adrenergic GPCRs, which regulate the body’s responses to the adrenaline hormone. Supported by a dedicated team at Lefkowitz Lab, Prof Kobilka achieved a breakthrough in two years when he successfully cloned the beta-2 adrenergic receptor and identified its full DNA sequence. It was an exciting period as he was competing against other labs that were trying to achieve the same thing.
Since then, Prof Kobilka has dedicated his career to advancing GPCR research. He moved to Stanford University in 1989 to become a Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, a role that he still holds. Now heading his own lab, his achievements include resolving the crystal structure of the G-protein complex—a feat that was particularly rewarding because he could collaborate with multiple researchers of various disciplines, from detergent scientists to lipid chemists to colleagues in X-ray crystallography.
For someone who had stated that he felt like a novice entering a lab full of well-trained biochemists and pharmacologists, Prof Kobilka is now the authority on all things GPCRs. His studies on GPCRs earned him the John J. Abel Award in Pharmacology in 1994, the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award in 2004 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 (shared with Prof Lefkowitz).
Prof Kobilka believes collaborations and strong relationships in a lab are vital for scientific research, particularly if one is new to the field. His early transition from clinical to research was made smoother by his Lefkowitz Lab colleagues who generously devoted their time to helping him. He counts his wife, Dr Tong Sun Kobilka, as among his closest collaborators, and has co-founded the biotechnology company ConfometRx with her.
Millennium Technology Prize
Professor Sir David Klenerman’s research, as well as his approach to it, were well ahead of his time. His work on next-generation DNA sequencing began as “blue-sky” research in 1997, when he sat in a pub in Cambridge, United Kingdom to discuss ideas with his colleague, Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian. Both men were excited about the possibility of making genome sequencing quicker and more scalable. In 1998, they co-founded the biotech company Solexa (now a part of Illumina) and co-invented Solexa sequencing.
Solexa sequencing is now widely used in basic biological and biomedical research. It allows for human genomes to be sequenced over one million times faster than in 2000, and at a much lower cost. The method is also routinely used as part of medical treatment, including non-invasive prenatal testing, the detection and treatment of cancer, and the diagnosis and treatment of rare genetic diseases, particularly for children. Sir David envisions an era of preventive medicine in the near future—entire populations can be sequenced for a complete record of their DNA that informs them of the type of diseases they might be predisposed to getting as well as the lifestyle adjustments they can make to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Sir David is a biophysical chemist who had worked with BP Research following his postdoctoral research. He saw that it was common practice for companies to assemble cross-functional teams to work on projects, a contrast to academic research which typically happened in silos back then. He appreciated how the strength in diverse knowledge could take his research forward in unimaginable ways. His industry experience played an important role in shaping his collaborative approach to research when he rejoined academia as a faculty member seven years later in 1994.
On his close collaborative relationship with Sir Shankar, Sir David shares that they not only complement each other in terms of expertise, but they get along well as friends. He believes that their close friendship was key to the success of building a company together. Sir David has stated that when times are rough, it is important that both parties know each other well enough to navigate through difficult conversations that need to be had.
Sir David is currently the Royal Society Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge. He is known for his development and application of new physical methods, particularly fluorescence spectroscopy, to biological and biomedical problems.
A Fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, Sir David has received recognition for his scientific contributions, including the 2018 Royal Medal by the Royal Society, the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize (shared with Sir Shankar) and the 2022 Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences (shared with Sir Shankar and Professor Pascal Mayer). In 2019, he was knighted in the UK for his development of high-speed DNA sequencing.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Professor Sir David MacMillan shares that when he looks back at his research journey, the most memorable moments were those in which he had the opportunity to collaborate with others. He also counts himself lucky to be able to work with individuals who are the best in the world at what they do.
The value of collaboration lies in its ability to move things forward in a way that would not have been possible to accomplish alone, Sir David believes. He sees an effective collaboration as one where both parties bring something different to the table, allowing each side to gain new insights. His advice to young aspiring scientists is to boldly pursue things that nobody has ever thought of or done before, and definitely work with like-minded people along the way. “The faster you can find people that you enjoy working with, the more fun the whole academic enterprise becomes,” he says.
Sir David is currently the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University. He shares the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Professor Benjamin List for developing a new type of catalysis that builds upon small organic molecules, which are now used in areas such as pharmaceutical research and have made chemistry more environmentally friendly.
When Sir David first embarked on his research journey back in the early 2000s, it was not as smooth sailing as one would presume. There were other scientists who were dismissive of the concept, recalls Sir David. But therein lies the importance of science communications: in science, it is not just about what happens in the labs—being able to communicate what you have accomplished or what you want to accomplish is really important.
Sir David attributes his success to his Scottish roots and working-class upbringing. Having grown up in the Scottish village of New Stevenston, he shares that one thing he holds close to heart was the way his community would interact with each other. “It was very communicative; we tell stories, we tell jokes, we entertain each other all the time. That forged my love for storytelling which, in turn, helped me in my scientific research.”
A strong sense of community and empathy is central to Sir David’s Scottish sensibilities. This is the reason why he created the May and Billy MacMillan Foundation and donated the sum of money he received from his Nobel Prize. Named in honour of his parents, the foundation funds programmes that provide educational opportunities for financially disadvantaged students in Scotland.
Nobel Prize in Physics
While pursuing his PhD, Prof Queloz and his supervisor, Professor Michel Mayor, changed the way scientists think about the planetary systems when they were the first to find and confirm the existence of an extrasolar planet, or exoplanet. Although the planet is uninhabitable due to its surface temperature of about 1,000 degrees Celsius, its announcement in 1995 kickstarted a race to find other exoplanets. Over 4,000 have been located, many by Prof Queloz himself, with incredible variety among them.
Over the course of his almost-three-decades-long career, Prof Queloz has taken part in the first space mission dedicated to exoplanet research; started the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, project to launch a satellite to study known exoplanets; and developed better instruments and techniques to detect exoplanets.
In his collaborations with different researchers, Prof Queloz has experienced the ‘magic in science’—where knowledge, mathematics and curiosity help bring people from different cultures together and dissolve boundaries. He believes all scientists share a love for curiosity and complexity, and when they come together, the whole of their ideas become greater than the sum of their parts.
He shared the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award with Prof Mayor and won the 2017 Wolf Prize in Physics, among other honours that also included the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is currently a Professor of Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. He also holds a professorship at the University of Geneva.
Today, Prof Queloz has his sights set on the origin of life and is leading the Terra Hunting Experiment, which is an initiative by a group of universities and institutes to find Earth-like planets.
Sir Fraser Stoddart
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Behind Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart’s works lie poetic motivations: he saw much beauty in the field of chemistry, and in turn, an opportunity to sculpt, paint and compose at the molecular level. It was this profound perspective of the field that drove Sir Fraser to sculpt his Magnum opus—the rotaxane molecule.
Mechanical bonds are the prime interest of Sir Fraser’s research. The field involves the formulation of mechanical constraints to hold parts of a molecule together, such as by interlocking two ring-shaped compounds to keep them from separating. In 1991, Sir Fraser used such bonds to develop rotaxane, which consisted of a molecular ring threaded onto a molecular axle.
Sir Fraser’s demonstration of the ring’s ability to move back and forth along the axle mirrored the vital ability of a machine’s components to move relative to each other in order for the machine to function. Sir Fraser was thus jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the design and synthesis of molecule machines in 2016. According to the Nobel Prize committee, the invention was a hopeful precedent for a new field of technology where “molecule machines could be used for new materials, sensors and energy storage systems”.
In an article written for Nature Nanotechnology, Sir Fraser credited his discovery of mechanical bonds to the X-ray crystallography expertise of David Williams at Imperial College, with whom he had worked closely from 1974 to 1991. He believes collaborations to have been essential throughout his career, writing that, “Oftentimes, by far the best outcomes in science are the result of collaborations.”
From 1997, Sir Fraser spent 10 years with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), developing rotaxane-based technology in collaboration with the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), which he became the Acting Co-Director of in 2002. He transformed rotaxanes into various molecule machines, from artificial muscles to computer chips. He believes that mechanical bonds open doors to a world of possibilities, and that these developments were just the beginning. Sir Fraser has since received numerous awards for his work, such as the Nagoya Gold Medal in Organic Chemistry (2004) and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2007).
In his time at Northwestern University in Illinois from 2008 to the present, Sir Fraser has shifted gears towards mentorship. As a Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry and head of the Stoddart Mechanostereochemistry Group at the University, he strives to nurture a new generation of trailblazing chemists. He has also established a research laboratory in Tianjin University in China to support young scientists. To him, the hundreds of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that he has mentored are his greatest legacy.
Echoing his former PhD examiner’s words to him before he embarked on his research career, Sir Fraser wishes for rising scientists to “tackle a big problem”. He encourages them to venture beyond the well-trodden areas of research to find the next big problem in science.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Photosynthesis is the process where light, water and carbon dioxide are converted into oxygen and chemical energy, a precondition for life on earth. These reactions are mediated by various membrane proteins. To have a complete understanding of their mechanism of action, atomic detail of their structure is required. It was once considered impossible to obtain such insights using standard protein X-ray crystallography. However, in 1982, the situation changed dramatically when Professor Hartmut Michel succeeded in preparing highly ordered crystals of a photosynthetic reaction centre from a purple bacterium, allowing the determination of its structure in atomic detail.
Prof Michel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1988, together with fellow colleagues and collaborators Johann ‘Hans’ Deisenhofer and Robert Huber, for “the determination of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre”. Since 1987, Prof Michel has been with the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt, Germany as Director in the department of molecular membrane biology. He is also Adjunct Professor at University of Frankfurt since 1989.
As a child, Prof Michel enjoyed outdoor activities and playing with local children in ‘gangs’ for fun. By age 11, however, he was rarely seen outside as he chose to spend his time reading in his local library. In 1969, he began studying biochemistry at the University of Tübingen, which at that time was the only place in Germany where a curriculum in biochemistry was available. His career in research took flight in 1974 when he carried out experiments as part of his biochemistry diploma in the lab of Professor Dieter Oesterhelt, his mentor and without whom the Nobel-winning research would not have been possible. Prof Michel gives much credit to Prof Oesterhelt, although the latter had declined to be named among the contributors.
According to Prof Michel, one must “have a clear image of your collaborator”, and Johann ‘Hans’ Deisenhofer was his partner of choice during the reaction centre project. Throughout their collaboration, Prof Michel and Hans became the best of friends. They split the work in such a way that optimised their individual skills and abilities: Prof Michel did all the experiments and data collection, while Hans computationally calculated the protein structure.
“It was a trustful collaboration”, says Prof Michel. “Very frequently, you see scientists who are overambitious; they don’t want to give you credit and they are not honourable.” He advises against pursuing such collaborations, as they will lead to nothing but trouble.
He also believes it is important to not become frustrated with challenging work, as projects will often fail on the path to success. “Life always goes up, don’t stop” is Prof Michel’s approach to his work and life.
Jack Dongarra is an expert in supercomputing and high-performance computing. He is the winner of the 2021 A.M. Turing Award “for pioneering concepts and methods which resulted in world-changing computations.” He specializes in numerical algorithms in linear algebra, parallel computing, the use of advanced computer architectures, programming methodology, and tools for parallel computers. His research includes the development, testing and documentation of high-quality mathematical software.
Most recently winning the Turing Award, Jack Dongarra also was awarded the IEEE Sid Fernbach Award in 2004 for his contributions to the application of high-performance computers using innovative approaches; in 2008 he was the recipient of the first IEEE Medal of Excellence in Scalable Computing; in 2010 he was the first recipient of the SIAM Special Interest Group on Supercomputing’s award for Career Achievement; in 2011 he was the recipient of the IEEE Charles Babbage Award; in 2013 he was the recipient of the ACM/IEEE Ken Kennedy Award for his leadership in designing and promoting standards for mathematical software used to solve numerical problems common to high-performance computing, in 2019 he was awarded the SIAM/ACM Prize in Computational Science and Engineering, and in 2020 he received the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award for leadership in the area of high-performance mathematical software. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, ACM, IEEE, and SIAM, a Foreign Fellow of the British Royal Society, and a Member of the US National Academy of Engineering.
He received a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Chicago State University in 1972 and a Master of Science in Computer Science from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1973. He received his PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of New Mexico in 1980. He worked at the Argonne National Laboratory until 1989, becoming a senior scientist. He now holds an appointment as a University Distinguished Professor of Computer Science in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of Tennessee and holds the title of Distinguished Research Staff in the Computer Science and Mathematics Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); Turing Fellow at Manchester University; an Adjunct Professor in the Computer Science Department at Rice University. He is the director of the Innovative Computing Laboratory at the University of Tennessee. He is also the director of the Center for Information Technology Research at the University of Tennessee which coordinates and facilitates IT research efforts at the University.
Nobel Prize in Physics
Professor John Mather believes that science is not about making grand plans. He credits his success to finding people he likes to work with and persistently tackling interesting questions with them despite setbacks.
Prof Mather’s key advice for aspiring scientists is to “talk to people”. He believes one can have a conversation with someone or have a meeting with a group of people and derive an answer to a question that no individual could have ever thought of by him or herself. “Everything good I’ve done has come from conversations with people. Science is a very social phenomenon,” he was once quoted.
In 2006, Prof Mather won the Nobel Prize in Physics alongside Professor George F. Smoot of the University of California for their collaborative work on deepening our understanding of how the universe was formed. They analysed data from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which studied the pattern of radiation from the first few instances after the universe was formed. Their work provided support for the Big Bang theory.
In his autobiography for the Nobel Prize, Prof Mather emphasised that the success of the COBE satellite project was ultimately a team effort. Drawing from his personal experiences, he also espoused this philosophy: “Life is a team sport, and it matters who’s on the team, and which team(s) one chooses to be on.”
During his graduate studies at University of California, Berkeley, Prof Mather wanted to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Richard Feynman, and become an elementary particle physicist.
However, he found himself on the brink of defeat after an unsuccessful thesis project on cosmic microwave background radiation and a few other setbacks during his postdoctoral studies at Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
At Goddard, he regained his motivation when he heard about NASA’s Scout and Delta-launched satellite missions. Confident that his failed thesis project would work for a space mission, he teamed up with several other scientists and submitted a proposal to NASA. It was this thesis project that inspired the COBE satellite, and the rest is history.
Prof Mather is now Senior Astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Adjunct Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is also the senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope—the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space. In 2020, the American Astronomical Society elected him as a Legacy Fellow.
Nobel Prize in Physics
Not many scientists can claim their work has unlocked an entirely new area of scientific research. This is the impact Professor Sir Konstantin Novoselov’s work on graphene has had in the field of material science.
In 2004, Sir Konstantin and Professor Sir Andre Geim successfully isolated graphene—the first known two-dimensional (2D) material—and mapped its unique properties. This one-atom-thick layer of carbon found in a hexagonal lattice is flexible, an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and about 100 times stronger than steel.
Before their breakthrough, other scientists had tried unsuccessfully to obtain graphene. Many thought that such a thin crystalline material could not be stable. The discovery of graphene paved the way for experiments on other 2D atomic crystals with superior and versatile properties. By assembling layers of graphene, the possibility of creating new materials with a wide range of applications in fields such as technology, electronics and biosensors is limitless.
In recognition of their groundbreaking work with graphene, Sir Konstantin and Sir Andre were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. In an interview with Nobel Media, Sir Konstantin has expressed how proud he was of Sir Andre’s decision not to patent graphene or their work when they published their first paper. Instead, they invited numerous scientists to collaborate, expanding research in graphene dramatically. Since then, Sir Konstantin has collaborated with leading industrial companies and initiated multiple spin-offs in printable and flexible electronics and materials for thermal management.
Sir Konstantin led the team that conceptualised and established the National Institute of Graphene in Manchester, proposing unique architectural and technical innovations. He is the scientific director of this institute and a Langworthy Professor of Physics and Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Manchester. In 2019, he joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) as Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.
He enjoys collaborations and believes the most important aspect in scientific work is the community one builds. “I find it much more stimulating if you collaborate. So, my task now is to create this sense of community in my lab at NUS,” he said in an interview with NUS.
Since 2014, Sir Konstantin has consistently been featured on the list of the world’s most highly cited researchers, with over 250 peer-reviewed research papers published to date. His seminal 2004 Science paper on graphene remains one of the top 100 papers cited in science in all fields. He has received numerous international recognitions, including knighthood in the Netherlands and UK.
Sir Konstantin is formally educated in and maintains an active interest in modern Chinese art, where he collaborates with prominent artists. In his artwork, he uses novel approaches and materials, the most notable of which is the introduction of graphene ink.
Millennium Technology Prize
Dr Langer is one of the world’s most-cited researchers, and the most cited engineer, and has received over 220 major awards, including the Millennium Technology Prize, Portugal’s Medal of Science, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Kyoto Prize, the Kabiller Prize, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and most recently, the International Balzan Prize in 2022.
When he was 43, he became the youngest person in history to be elected to the three National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. He is also one of only three living people to have received both the US National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Dr Langer’s research journey began in the 1970s, when he developed polymer materials that allowed a protein’s large molecules to pass through membranes in a controlled manner to inhibit angiogenesis—the process through which tumours recruit blood vessels.
The groundbreaking project was the result of a collaboration between Dr Langer and medical scientist, Dr Judah Folkman. At the time, Dr Folkman was a surgeon and served as a mentor to Dr Langer. When Dr Folkman mentioned his controversial theory that stopping blood vessels could potentially stop cancer, Dr Langer jumped at the chance to marry his skills as a chemical engineer with medicine. He was eventually able to develop tiny particles that could deliver large molecules like blood vessel inhibitors.
As a leader and mentor himself, Dr Langer is dedicated to carrying Dr Folkman’s positive and inspiring leadership style through to his own students and staff. He has since worked with students from all over the world who have gone on to become professors and entrepreneurs in their own right.
Dr Langer is now one of just twelve Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the highest distinction awarded to a faculty member, and his academic biomedical engineering laboratory at MIT is the largest in the world.
His lab is currently working on drug delivery technologies that rely on tiny particles bursting at different times, so that a single vaccine shot can provide immunity that renews itself. He is also involved in many other projects, including the creation of a band-aid with microneedles to deliver vaccines as well as booster shots.
Stefan W. Hell
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Professor Stefan Hell developed a microscopy method called stimulated emission depletion (STED) that bypasses this limitation. His pioneering technique helped researchers to peer into the nanoworld of cells, and he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 alongside two other scientists.
Traditionally, scientists used microscopes to focus light onto a point on the cell sample to get molecules to glow so they can image them. As light travels in waves, however, that point is actually a circle with a radius of at least 200 nanometres. All the molecules within that circle will glow at the same time when the light hits them, producing a fluorescent blob that makes it impossible for researchers to discern individual molecules.
Professor Hell’s innovation was to add a second beam of light with a hole in its centre. This beam darkens the molecules that it hits, so that only the molecules within the hole continue to glow. By moving the two light beams across the sample, scientists can thus get much higher resolution images.
He has also continued to break new ground in microscopy, developing two other methods, called MINSTED and MINFLUX, to produce even higher resolution images. STED achieved a resolution of 20 to 30 nanometres, generating images that were about 10 times sharper. MINSTED provides a resolution of one to three nanometres, enabling researchers to separate and track individual molecules that are only a few nanometres apart.
Professor Hell is now Director at both the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and Max Planck Institute for Medical Research. He has also won the Kavli Prize, Otto Hahn Prize, Wilhelm Exner Medal and other awards.
Sir Tim Hunt
Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine
Cell division is a fundamental feature of life. It occurs in stages guided by signals that regulate progression through its cycle. In 2001, Professor Sir Tim Hunt, together with Leland H. Hartwell and Sir Paul M. Nurse, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle”. These regulators, known as cyclins and cyclin-dependent protein kinases, are present in all known eukaryotic species and are highly conserved through evolution.
From a young age, Sir Tim appeared to have a natural affinity for biology. When deciding on which career path to pursue, he found it easy because he was not particularly good at physics, mathematics or history, but he could grasp concepts of organic chemistry well. Much of his interest in the subject was due to him having passionate educators throughout his schooling years up to his time in university. In the 1950s and 1960s, biochemistry was all the rage, partly because the structure of DNA had recently been discovered. There was also widespread interest in deciphering the mechanisms of protein synthesis.
Sir Tim began his scientific career in 1964 as a PhD student at Cambridge University in the Department of Biochemistry under the supervision of Professor Asher Korner. He worked together with a fellow student, Tony Hunter, to study haemoglobin synthesis in rabbit reticulocytes, a topic greatly inspired by a talk from Professor Vernon Ingram at Cambridge in 1965. Sir Tim’s work in reticulocyte lysates elucidated many essential mechanisms regulating protein synthesis.
Later in his career, Sir Tim would spend his summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, looking at the control of protein synthesis in fertilised sea urchin and clam eggs. He was amazed at how fast these eggs would divide and began thinking more about cell division. It was during these studies that he made a remarkable discovery. According to Sir Tim, “I accidentally discovered a protein that disappeared every time a cell divided. At the time, that was supposed to be impossible. I followed up and it turned out to be very important.” He named the protein cyclin, both due to its behaviour and his love of cycling.
Much of Sir Tim’s work between 1971 and 1989 was performed with Richard Jackson, who is now Emeritus Professor of RNA Biochemistry at Cambridge. Prof Jackson was his longest scientific collaborator—they worked together on many projects regarding the control of protein synthesis, even sharing lab space. Sir Tim highlights that in a collaboration, it is most important that you like and respect the other person. Even after their work together had ended, Sir Tim and Prof Jackson remained friends.
For his scientific contributions, Sir Tim received the Royal Medal from the Royal Society in 2006. He was also knighted in the same year. Sir Tim’s scientific career and achievements are a testament to his value on persistence. He encourages aspiring young scientists to “keep your eyes on the horizon but your feet on the ground and your nose to the grindstone”. This timeless piece of wisdom is sure to cycle through the generations.
Millennium Technology Prize
The relevance of Prof Parkin’s work to our daily lives is intriguing. He revolutionised the Internet with his application of spintronics to data storage disk drives, enabling a thousand-fold increase in the storage capacity of disk drives. This contribution, for which Prof Parkin received the 2014 Millennium Technology Prize, underpinned the evolution of large data centres and cloud services, social networks, and online music and film distribution—all of which we use on a day-to-day basis now.
Looking back on his journey, Prof Parkin says he is continuously amazed by the degree of technological advancements that humanity has achieved. “I remember the first computing systems when I joined IBM as a postdoctoral researcher in the 1990s,” he says. “Chunky, with screens half a metre deep, and so heavy that no one could lift them. But looking at the paper-thin screens and hyper-realistic visuals that we have now, that’s just surreal.”
Emphasising that science and technological advancements are largely unpredictable, Prof Parkin says that despite the challenges, this is precisely why progress happens. After all, the most boring thing a scientist can do, is to follow a known path from point A to point B, he believes. “You really want to follow a path where there is no path. Then you have to create a path, and that's super exciting and interesting.”
A strong believer of pushing boundaries and attempting the impossible, Prof Parkin has been working on racetrack memory, an entirely novel concept that he created, since 2002. What started as a radical idea that others were skeptical of has turned into an anticipated breakthrough after Prof Parkin proved its fundamental principle in a scientific paper published in 2008. If developed and scaled successfully, racetrack memory would enable a much larger storage capacity in disk drives.
Prof Parkin encourages aspiring scientists who want to work at the cutting-edge of science to seek out collaborators who share the same belief. Drawing from personal experience, he explains that it makes for an inspiring and purposeful journey, when one gets to work with collaborators who think differently and who have insights that nobody else has. “It can be a frustrating process, because when you’re pushing for new knowledge and inventions, people often don’t believe that what you’re doing is possible. That’s normal, and you just have to keep going,” he advises.
Prof Parkin is now based in Germany as Director at Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics and Professor at the Institute of Physics at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. In 2021, he received the King Faisal Prize for Science for his groundbreaking contributions to the field of spintronics.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Rapid and precise transmission of information in the brain is required for humans to think, feel and make decisions. Information is transferred between neurons in the form of electrical and chemical signals through specialised connections known as synapses. Since starting his lab in 1986, Professor Thomas Südhof has made landmark contributions towards understanding synaptic physiology: from elucidating the mechanisms of neurotransmitter release to uncovering the specifications of synapse formation in health and disease.
In 2013, Prof Südhof was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, alongside James Rothman and Randy Schekman, “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”. Specifically, Prof Südhof had identified many of the proteins that trigger vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Much of this work was performed during his 21 years at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center and in close collaboration with structural biologist Jose Rizo from UT Southwestern and electrophysiologist Charles “Chuck” Stevens from the Salk Institute. Together, they worked out the detailed atomic structures and cellular function of many of the proteins they studied.
“Collaborations are the key to science,” according to Prof Südhof, who personally enjoys working with other labs, particularly when they offer diverse expertise that is complementary to his. He finds that he always gains something new when working with different groups, such as structural biologists, electrophysiologists and stem cell researchers. He advises young scientists to choose their collaborators wisely—seek individuals whose primary motivation in research is their need to understand the problem—and to work in a place that offers a conducive scientific environment.
At Stanford University, Prof Südhof is the Avram Goldstein Professor of the School of Medicine and the Director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience in Health and Disease. He is a member of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and has been an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1991.
Prof Südhof's work at Stanford includes analysing how synapses form in the brain, how their properties are specified and the factors (particularly genetic mutations) that lead to their dysfunction in neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. Together with Stanford professor Marius Wernig, he develops human neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells of patients with neuropsychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders. Using these cells, they can study how gene mutations impact synaptic function and how they ultimately lead to brain disorders.
To translate basic research knowledge into application, Prof Südhof is also actively involved in the biotech industry as Co-Founder and Scientific Advisory Board member of numerous biomedical companies, including Boost Neurosciences and Recognify, which are dedicated to improving the lives of patients with neurological dysfunction through the development of pro-cognitive therapeutics.
Prof Südhof’s numerous awards are a testament to his illustrious career; among his awards include the 1993 Alden Spencer Award, the 2004 von Euler Lectureship, the 2010 Kavli Award and the 2013 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award shared with Richard Scheller. In 2020, he received the Doppler Lecture Award and Honorary Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Miskolc, Hungary and the Sherrington Lecture Award from the University of Oxford, UK.
Professor Wendelin Werner believes there are two types of mathematicians—those driven by application and those driven by a curiosity to unravel the abstract ideas of the world around us. Prof Werner is the latter. The German-born French mathematician currently resides in Switzerland as a professor of mathematics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, or ETH Zürich.
In 2006, Prof Werner was awarded a Fields Medal “for his contributions to the development of stochastic Loewner evolution, the geometry of two-dimensional Brownian motion and conformal field theory" according to the International Mathematical Union who awards the medal. In short, Prof Werner’s work contributes to defining and proving randomness.
From 1999 to 2003, much of Prof Werner’s time was spent working with major collaborators, Professor Greg Lawler and Professor Oded Schramm—albeit online. The paper that won him the Fields Medal was a result of this collaborative effort. Without the convenience of zoom video calls, all communication took place over e-mail. The three researchers were also based in different corners of the world, making discussions across time zones similar to passing a baton.
For Prof Werner, collaboration is important, but best executed in small groups. He finds that talking with colleagues about a topic he is stuck on helps him formulate his own thoughts and realise new ideas he had not previously considered.
When Prof Werner, Prof Lawler and Prof Schramm were able to meet in the same country, they would find time to get out of the lab and discuss problems that they were stuck on. Prof Werner described these discussions as ‘ping-pong’ conversations, where everyone contributed and it felt as though their minds were connected. He recalls a specific conversation that took place while walking down a hill towards the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in San Francisco. They walked along a scenic route and talked about a particularly pressing problem—by the time they reached the bottom of the hill, they had their answer.
When asked if he had any advice for young mathematicians, Prof Werner included a caveat, saying that he cannot judge if his experiences are still valid because of how rapidly the research landscape is changing. Nonetheless, he urges young researchers to be authentic and earnest—building on who they are and what they know to contribute to the field.
Since receiving the Fields Medal, Prof Werner has been awarded the SIAM George Pólya Prize in 2006, elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 2008 and made an honorary fellow of Gonville and Caius College in 2009.