Nobel Laureate's Visit To RKU

Nobel Laureate Dr. Ada Yonath delivered a special research seminar at RK University on Feb. 27, 2017. During the seminar, the distinguished dignitary spoke about what motivated her to pursue cutting-edge research and how she managed to make groundbreaking contributions to the area ribosome research. Her motivating speech left the audience mesmerized. Dr. Ada Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 2009 for her work on the structure and function of the ribosome. Dr. Yonath’s findings have been used by pharmaceutical companies worldwide for designing highly efficient antibiotics. On Feb. 27 (2017), Dr. Ada Yonath also inaugurated RK University’s Bioresearch & Characterisation Centre, by unveiling the plaque with her name on it. As part of the equipment upgrade initiative, RK University approved the purchase of ultra-modern research equipment worth approximately half a crore, to facilitate research and consultancy across the campus. The newly established Bioresearch & Characterisation Centre at RKU houses a state-of-the-art Agilent GC-MS, a Bio-Rad Thermocycler, and a Leica phase-contrast microscope. Several other upgrades have also been made across the campus to provide strong support to research and student training activities. RK University researchers will be using the newly purchased equipment in the School of Science/School of Pharmacy to make valuable contributions to the field of biomedical research. Nobel Laureate Dr. Ada Yonath conveyed her best wishes to all the RK University students and researchers.

Reflections On Nobel Laureate's Visit To RKU

(Circulated across RKU by Dr. Nikhil A. Gokhale on Feb. 28, 2017)

Dear all,

It was a truly wonderful day in Tramba yesterday! Nobel Laureate Dr. Ada Yonath delivered an absolutely mesmerizing research seminar inside our august campus on this historic day. Salute to the first female Nobel Prize winner from Israel. Salute to her source of inspiration from India (Dr. G. N. Ramachandran), with whom she competed as a young researcher. Yesterday’s Nobel Laureate Seminar was indeed packed with words of wisdom.

Lesson #1: Overcoming hurdles with extraordinary willpower: Despite a few health-related adversities, the distinguished dignitary managed to make it to RK University. We must appreciate her spirit and unique enthusiasm. It takes a lot of courage to accept such challenges (at her age).

Lesson #2: Transcending boundaries without being territorial: The distinguished dignitary from Israel mentioned towards the end of her seminar that besides Albert Einstein, India’s very own G. N. Ramachandran (well known for the Ramachandran plots or the “[φ,ψ]” plots) was her source of inspiration for all these years. When it comes to research, collaboration, and teamwork, we must never restrict ourselves to certain geographical locations. Overcoming all such artificial barriers is the key here.

Lesson #3: Never resting on one’s laurels: Nobel Laureates have every right to celebrate their past achievements, but they rarely do so. Back at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, where I was working as a visiting fellow, I got the opportunity to attend Nobel Laureate Dr. Oliver Smithies’ research seminar. Dr. Smithies (1925–2017) described to a mesmerized audience, how he enjoyed research-related activities even during his 80s. Although color blind, he was a licensed airplane pilot.

Lesson #4: Being optimistic without being delusional: It is always a good idea to clearly identify one’s strengths and weaknesses and to focus on projects that make use of the strongest attributes (although sometimes it is easily possible to convert a perceived “weakness” into a “strength”). However, strongly believing in something without having the right training/technology for achieving the goals is not much different than being unrealistically optimistic or delusional.

Lesson #5: Competing while acknowledging: It is a well-established fact that healthy competition brings in quality (e.g., when two companies fiercely compete with each other for patenting newly discovered pharmaceutical drugs, the customer benefits tremendously in most of the cases). Nobel Laureates also enjoy healthy competition (that is their basic driving force!), but these high-profile dignitaries always make it a point to encourage and congratulate even their closest competitors. Interestingly, most of the Nobel Laureates/high-profile researchers I have interacted with over the years have consistently conveyed the same exact message (“we work for our own satisfaction and not for earning appreciation.”). [Two really wonderful policies!]

Lesson #6: Caring for family and friends: Sometime back, Dr. Yonath’s granddaughter presented her with an award, which was presumably the first and last award ever declared for a caring grandma (according to Dr. Yonath’s granddaughter). Dr. Yonath immediately framed in onto her wall and she now proudly displays it in all of her PowerPoint presentations (she inserts it right after the Nobel Prize slide!). For her, family and friends matter a lot.

Lesson #7: Being patient: The research that Dr. Ada Yonath conducted between the 1980s and 1990s finally fetched her a Nobel Prize in the year 2009. Her research groups in Israel and Germany (yes, she heads research groups from two different countries!) were able to solve the X-ray crystal structure of the subunits of the bacterial ribosome after countless attempts, but they finally got a taste of success. Patience was the key here, according to Dr. Yonath.

Lesson #8: Having a (fantastic) sense of humor: Towards the end of her seminar, Dr. Yonath revealed her funny side as well. Like most other successful researchers, she has a great sense of humor. Most of the successful speakers we come across almost always insert a slightly humorous (yet thought provoking) slide into their presentations, primarily to captivate the audience. It’s an unwritten rule.

Lesson #9: Having empathy: Dr. Ada Yonath’s work has resulted into the creation of world-class antibiotics that have helped save the lives of millions of patients worldwide. Her presentation clearly demonstrated her willingness to extend a helping hand to the needy. She does have a very kind soul. It’s indeed essential to have empathy for others.

Lesson #10: Actively scouting for new targets: Setting new targets is as important as not resting on one’s laurels. Working on something by setting a clear goal is always more meaningful (In Dr. Ada Yonath’s own words, “Time after time, we thought that we had reached the peak, only to discover a taller summit!”).   

Dr. Ada Yonath’s visit has indeed been deeply inspiring. Thanks to the entire RKU Parivar for facilitating yesterday’s Nobel Laureate event. On a slightly different note, when I drafted and presented my original research proposal for the RKU Research Center (figure inserted below) back in the year 2016 (with technical inputs from various Schools), I felt happy to receive a lot of support from RKU’s Management/Leadership and from all the Schools across the university. I thank the entire team for the consistent support, back then and now. I am sure RKU’s enthusiastic researchers will make the most out of the equipment upgrades/the newly established  Bioresearch & Characterisation Centre. Best wishes for the same. With new resources, come new responsibilities. It won’t happen overnight, but it is now our duty to ensure that we start deriving at least some of the benefits originally outlined in the research proposal.

After conveying her best wishes to all of us, the distinguished dignitary left for Israel yesterday night from Mumbai. Our sincere thanks to Dr. Ada E. Yonath!

Best regards,