Saturday, October 26, 2013
I just delivered the Karcher Lecture at the University of Oklahoma. People call this university OU and not UO. [I wondered if this was to avoid students saying "I go to the University of Oklahoma" and being subjected to the smug retort: "Ah, You Owe!" But, I digress :-)]. Karcher discovered reflection seismography when working for NIST, used these to discover oil, then co-founded what became Texas Instruments. Texas Instruments is where Jack Kilby worked when he invented the integrated circuit, the basis of computer hardware. He won the 2000 Physics Nobel for that. I liked Kilby's Nobel lecture in which he stated how he felt when he saw a computer: 'It's like the beaver told the rabbit as they stared at the Hoover Dam. "No, I didn't build it myself, but it's based on my idea."'
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
All three of the winners have had to endure heavy professional criticism from different parts over the years. Our field was frowned upon by many for a long time. Many of the calculations performed were, and are, wrong, inconsistent, biased and disagree with experiment and these shortcomings were jumped upon by discreditors and still are, although to a lesser extent, nowadays. However, the three Laureates certainly got everyone's attention early on. I don't know Michael Levitt personally so well, but of course I know his work. In the 1970s and 1980s, working in Cambridge, he published papers folding BPTI and predicting protein stability that created quite a storm. Arieh Warshel was at the origin of some of the key concepts in the field - I would think of his multiple papers on the electrostatic control of enzyme reactions. As for Martin, he's been absolutely towering. Carefully building up the complexity of the systems he studied, from simple hydrogen reactions through conformational NMR to large biological complexes, his contributions have been wide-ranging, careful, and thorough. His QM/MM work was but a small part of his overall career.
As ever in human life, the strongest reflections at these times are maybe personal. Michael Levitt impressed me by working mostly alone for a long time, when everyone else was building up large groups. Many of us know the twinkle in Arieh Warshel's eye when he stands up in a conference and criticizes the speaker, and we can all recognize his 'anonymous' referee reports. As for Martin, he has left an indelible impression on all of us who have passed through his lab over the last 50 years. He's has been a dedicated servant to science - a role model for us all. Congratulations to all three - and to my ex-boss in particular!