Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to Warshel, Levitt and Karplus

This year, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has a special flavor for computational biochemists, as the Swedish Academy has decided to recognize the creators of Quantum Mechanics/Molecular Mechanics hybrid methods. Levitt and Warshel developed the first computational simulation of a protein, back in 1975, whereas Karplus and his group developed the well-known CHARMm force-field and molecular dynamics code. I am very glad  to see Warshel recognized as the towering giant he really is (in spite of his short stature).  He is a very warm and likeable fellow, always eager for a good discussion on the merits (and demerits) of a scientific proposal. He does have, however, a singular lack of patience for bullshit, and a peculiar disregard for diplomatic niceties ....

Warshel's parents were Polish Jews who left Europe for Palestine before World War II to join a kibbutz. He attributes part of  his peculiar temper to the circumstances of growing up in such an utopian socialist community in the 1940's, before the Israeli War of Independence. Lying and "truth embellishment" were very strongly frowned upon, and one was expected to be able to withstand withering criticism whenever warranted. His BS-detector is therefore quite over-calibrated, and he takes no prisoners when arguing against a wrong-headed argument. Warshel's abrasive style is well-known in the computational chemistry, as are is frequent controversies with other workers.

He also told me one of the best jokes I know... He presented it as a real tale of his uncle's exploits as an officer in the Polish Army. here it goes:

During on of his official leaves, his uncle went to a brothel. After the "job" had been done, he got up to get dressed and leave. The prostitute the asked: "What about the money, sir?". And he replied: "An officer never accepts money, my lady"