Crystallographer Yonath Wins Nobel in Chemistry

October 7, 2009

Ada Yonath is born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem, then under the British Mandate. Although her parents were religious Jews, they send Yonath to a secular school in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood of Jerusalem. Following her father’s death when she is eleven, the family moves to Tel-Aviv. Drawn to science, Ada serves in the Medical Forces of the IDF following her high school graduation. Upon completing her military service, she enrolls at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem where she studies chemistry, biochemistry and physics. There, Ada receives her Masters of Science. She goes on to earn a Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. For her postdoctoral studies, she attends MIT before returning to Israel to join the Chemistry Department at the Weizmann Institute in 1970. There she creates Israel’s first protein-crystallography laboratory.

Yonath has devoted most of her career to uncovering the structures of the ribosomes, especially as they are active in the process of protein biosynthesis. In 2009, she receives the Nobel Prize in chemistry together with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz for studies on the structure and function of the ribosome. Yonath becomes the first woman from the Middle East to win a science Nobel. She is the first woman anywhere since 1964 and the fourth overall to win the chemistry prize.