"Pero cuando nosotras, mujeres, queremos alcanzar nuestro objetivo, debemos creer en nosotras mismas... Debemos sentir una responsabilidad personal de allanar el camino a quienes vienen detrás." ROSALYN SUSSMAN YALOW (discurso de recogida del premio Nobel de Medicina en 1977)
Raised in a family with scarce economic resources, Ada E. Yonath received full support by her family in order to achieve a good education. Ada herself, mentions other important elements during her childhood which contributed to her growing interest in her instruction: “Another key element was the encouragement and support of many of my teachers, among them my primary school maths teacher, Zvi Vinitzky, who introduced me to Tony Halle, headmaster of the exclusive Tichon Hadash school, who accepted my application even knowing I wasn’t able to pay for the tuition fee. In exchange, I helped young Bulgarian immigrants with their maths studies.”
In 1968, supported by a brilliant academic career, Ada achieves a PhD in X-Ray Crystallography. Her training took place both in Israel and the USA. In 1980, she commenced crystallography of ribosomes, the universal cellular component that translated the genetic code proteins, despite encountering an overall skepticism by almost all her fellow colleagues. In the mid 80s she develops a new technique for the study of biological structures: The Cryo Bio-Crystallography that enables the determination of biological structures. This new technique is based on flesh freezing the crystals in liquid propane or nitrogen just before placing in the X-ray diffraction machine thus minimizing the crystal damage caused by the X-irradiation.
Her studies culminated in 2000-1, when the structures of the two ribosomal subunits were determined. In 2009, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz, for their studies concerning the structure and function of the ribosome. These discoveries meant a great step forward: improving the effect of the antibiotics against pathogenic bacteria that acquired resistant to them, and therefore, neutralizing their healing effect.
Thomas A. Steitz, Ada Yonath y Venkatraman Ramakrishnan
Among the many prizes awarded to her after her discovery :
The first European Crystallography Prize (2000)
L'Óreal Prize - UNESCO for Women in Science (2008)
The Albert Einstein World AwardScience (2008)
To conclude, I would like to focus on the personal side of such a great scientist. During the past month of December (2013) she attended the Book Fair at Guadalajara (México). At the end of the conference she wanted to emphasize on two important aspects:
First, she encouraged all women with scientific concerns to follow their vocation. “It is possible to do so and have a family”. Then she showed a picture of her family, with her daughter and granddaughter and her research team, among which there are women with children.
Secondly, she showed the prize she is most proud of… a diploma drawn by her granddaughter, Noa, which reads: “ The Grandmother of the Year is Ada Yonath. She is always busy but always has a moment for me.” The scientist expressed her happiness for such a prize yet she said: “This is an award I must win again every year”.