The Uniqueness of Israel

Israel’s Twelve Noble Prize Laureates

Despite being a very small country, Israel has won an impressive number of Nobel Prizes. To date, there have been twelve winners of the coveted awards in Israel, with Chemistry being a particular area of excellence.

Most recently, in 2013, Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt won the Nobel Prize for chemistry and became Israel’s fifth and sixth winners of the chemistry prize in under ten years.

Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover won the prize in 2004, together with their American colleague Irwin Rose, for their research into ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation, a process that takes place inside cells responsible for diseases such as cystic fibrosis and cancer.

Ada Yonath then won the 2009 chemistry prize, together with colleagues Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz, for her work on the ribosome, the protein producing part of the cell. Their work directly led to improved treatments for illnesses such as leukaemia, glaucoma and HIV. Yonath was also the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first woman from the Middle East to win a science Nobel and the first woman in 45 years to win the chemistry prize.

Daniel Shechtman, from Tel Aviv, was the next to win the prize in 2011 for his discovery of quasicrystals. Shechtman made the discovery back in 1982 and according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, it “fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter”.

However, many scientists refused to accept Shechtman’s results and there was a great deal of ridicule. In an interview Shechtman once said, “For a long time it was me against the world. I was a subject of ridicule and lectures about the basics of crystallography. The leader of the opposition to my findings was the two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, the idol of the American Chemical Society and one of the most famous scientists in the world.”

However, in the end, Shechtman was vindicated and his discovery has gone on to play an important role in the development of crucial industrial and commercial materials.

It is not just in chemistry that Israel has won the Nobel Prize. In 2002 the psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for economics for his study of risk in economic behaviour. Just three years later the Hebrew University professor Yisrael Aumann also won the economics prize for his study of game theory, the way decision-making works in environments with lots of interacting parts, such as government, markets or large organisations.

There are three Israelis who have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work towards peace in the region, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

There is even an Israeli who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. S. Y. Agnon won the prize in 1966 for his “profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people,” according to the Swedish award committee.

Thanks to these twelve remarkable individuals, Israel currently ranks twelfth for the number of Nobel laureates per capita, a sign of just how innovative, determined, ambitious and successful the country really is.

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