Reactions to the Nobel News

Last week, Kurt Wüthrich, who is Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Visiting Professor of Structural Biology at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and a member of TSRI's Department of Molecular Biology and Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for applying the technique of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to solving the structures of biological macromolecules.

News&Views asked Wüthrich (who is also professor at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ) in Switzerland), members of his laboratory, and several of his colleagues at TSRI where they were when they heard the announcement and what their initial reaction to the award was.


Kurt Wüthrich
Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Visiting Professor of Structural Biology

I was in a classroom with my students [in Zürich], getting updated on the research that was being done. (I had been out of the office for three weeks). My secretary [abruptly interrupted] and called me out of the room to tell me the news.

Someone told me later that when they told me, I [just stood there] and didn't say anything for two minutes and several seconds. I wasn't aware of that. This is great!


Peter Wright
Chair, Department of Molecular Biology and Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Investigator in Medical Research

About 8 AM, I was just about to leave for work. I got a phone call from my administrator, Ruby, who said, "The press wants to speak to you." I was absolutely delighted. It was long overdue.

It is not often that these things happen to colleagues, and it's great to see Kurt get the prize. It's fantastic for the field of NMR structural biology. It's fantastic for Scripps. And it's fantastic for Kurt. I'm really delighted he won the prize.

Kurt's prize is extremely important because it is recognition for NMR as a method for determining the structures of biological macromolecules in solution. It really helps put the field on the map.

Jamie Williamson Professor, Associate Dean of the Kellogg School of Science and Technology

I heard in the morning when I came to work. Someone had sent me an email that said, "He did it."

The news brought a smile to my face because he has been in the running for a long time and he really did make a fundamental contribution to making NMR something that people could use. He's the one who got in the trenches and did protein structures. He is the one who showed that NMR is really a structural biology tool.

Besides that, he has spent a career advancing the field to a fine art. And he has solved a lot of structures.

It is about time. This is great for him and uplifting for the whole field.

Gary Siuzdak
Director of Mass Spectrometry

I was at a conference in New Jersey. It was incredible because they first announced John Fenn, who I know and who is a great guy. I was still amazed [by] that when they mentioned Wüthrich. That was fantastic! I was ecstatic that both Fenn and Wüthrich won and that the prize went to analytical chemistry.

[NMR and mass spectrometry] are the major analytical tools in chemistry today. Their impact for every chemist [and biologist] in the world has been huge.

John Chung
Director, BioMolecular NMR Facility

I was in bed at 7AM, when the phone rang. It was a former postdoc here at TSRI who now works in New Jersey who'd gotten wind of the news on the East Coast right about then.

It woke me up—that's for sure. I hurried into the lab since I figured that there'd be some reaction from the community to the announcement. Some people from Union Tribune came out to take photos with Dr. Wuthrich's postdocs.

Wolfgang Peti
Research Associate, Wüthrich lab

It was 3 o'clock in the morning, and I was at home. One of my best friends called me from Cambridge [England] and told me.

I wasn't sure if he was joking, so I called my parents in Austria and asked them to check it out on the internet.

I thought, I have to wake up the other guys, too, so I called them. Unfortunately, they were asleep and didn't wake up when I tried to ring. That was the only disappointment of the day!

Linda Columbus
Research Associate, Wüthrich lab

I was at home, and I knew they were announcing the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, so I checked the web [as soon as I got up]. I screamed to my husband, "You are not going to believe this..."


Torsten Herrmann
Research Associate, Wüthrich lab

I heard about this award early in the morning. I was sitting outside, and I saw a note on my car. At first I thought the police had come by or something.

The note was from this guy who was living in my apartment complex, and it said that Kurt won the prize. I was totally surprised, but I wasn't sure this guy was not playing a joke.

I called Switzerland, and [then] I was sure that it was absolutely true. I immediately went to my roommate and knocked loudly on his door—he was afraid that it might be a fire—and then we sat on the balcony with coffee discussing and laughing because it [came as] a total surprise.


Touraj Etezady
Graduate Student, Wüthrich lab

I heard someone knocking on the door, and I thought, "My God, what is happening? An earthquake?!"

Then Torsten came in and said, "You won't believe it—Kurt won the Nobel prize!"

I couldn't believe it. We started to scream. It was unbelievable. He deserves it—he has worked so hard for it.

I remember back home [in Zürich] at the university. In the first lecture I had with him, he took off his belt and showed us how protein folding works. I am happy for him.




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