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Israelis You Should Know: Ada Yonath

Ada Yonath, Israeli chemist who won 2009 Nobel Prize (Photo: Miki Koren/Weizmann Institute of Science)

Born: June 22, 1939 in Jerusalem

Family: a daughter, Hagit, and granddaughter, Noa

Known for: winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2009

Why you should know her: Born to Zionist Jewish parents who were originally from Poland, Ada grew up in Jerusalem, where her family ran a grocery store and struggled to make ends meet. When her father died at age 42, the family moved to Tel Aviv, where their financial struggles grew even worse.

Ada returned to Jerusalem to attend Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1962, and two years later with a master’s in biochemistry. Four years after that she earned a Ph.D. in X-Ray crystallography at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Ada went on to join the chemistry department at Weizmann, becoming a full professor in 1988. She also held positions at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the University of Chicago. Concurrent to her professorships she headed a research team working to unveil the structure of the ribosome, the part of the cell that synthesizes proteins.

Her two decades of research revolutionized structural biology worldwide and earned her many awards, including the Nobel Prize in 2009, and memberships with the Israeli Academy of Science and Humanities, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the International Academy of Astronautics.

She was only the fourth woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize, and the first woman since 1964 to earn this honor. 

In her own words: Speaking about the extreme poverty she knew as a child, she said, "Survival is far more complicated, much more demanding (than doing science). You can always try another approach; even change your subject when a scientific strategy or experiment fails. But when you are hungry you are hungry!"

Tags: Life in Israel

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