BY CHRIS POWERS
SC Staff Writer
This year, the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three individuals, Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel, for “the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems.”
Martin Karplus is an 83-year-old American theoretical chemist who was born in Austria. Currently, he is the Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University and the Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory, which is a joint laboratory between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg, France.
Karplus currently works with biological molecules. This work entails coordinating and developing the CHARMM (Chemistry at Harvard Macromolecular Mechanics) program for molecular dynamics simulations. This program contains many analysis packages for these simulations.
Michael Levitt is a 66-year-old American biophysicist from South Africa. He is also the Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Levitt was first known for conducting Molecular Dynamics Simulations of DNA and proteins. He developed the first program that could be used for these purposes. Currently, he has been developing approaches to predict macromolecular structures.
Arieh Warshel, an Israeli-American Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Southern California, makes contributions to computational methods for structure function correlation of biological molecules.
He is also known for developing the first molecular dynamics simulation of a biological process.
Throughout the 1970’s, the work of Karplus, Levitt, and Warshel formed the basis of computer modeling of complex chemical structures.
Before the implementation of computer modeling techniques, chemists had to accomplish their modeling through a ball-and-stick methodology, which has obvious limitations in size and complexity.
According to Karplus, “My chemistry colleagues thought it was a waste of time. Now it has become a central part of chemistry and structural biology… It has consecrated this field.”
Prior to the innovations introduced by these three chemists, large molecules in chemistry had to be represented using other methods, which was time consuming and tedious. Once computer simulations became readily available, scientists were able to create large-scale models easily and quickly, increasing the potential of their work.
All three of these scientists were pleased to receive the award, and they were especially pleased to be sharing it with each other.
“One would hate to win the prize if people who also deserved it didn’t get it,” Levitt said, regarding his colleagues and fellow prizewinners.
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