Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and other top officials congratulated Prof. Arieh Warshel for winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday, praising the Israeli academic institutions in which the professor learned and taught earlier in his professional career.
“Congratulations, you are doing huge, incredible and impressive things,” the prime minister told Warshel, who was born in Israel but moved to the US in the 1970s.
“We are proud of you and we are proud of people who were at the Technion and the Weizmann Institute and helped promote these establishments,” he said.
Netanyahu, who made a personal phone call to Warshel on Wednesday, also told the professor that he would be “delighted” to arrange a meeting upon the Nobel-winning academic’s next visit to Israel.
Peres spoke with Warshel as well and jokingly inquired about the professor’s childhood on the northern Kibbutz of Sde Nahum.
“How does it feel for a kibbutznik to win the Nobel Prize?” Peres asked.
“Just the same as someone from the [Haifa area] Krayot would feel,” Warshel answered.
The president went on to extol Warshel’s academic achievements, and said that the professor contributed to scientific breakthroughs that may help in the curing of sicknesses in the future.
“I want to congratulate you on behalf of anyone who ever hoped to overcome illness and suffering because of your discoveries,” said Peres.
“I am sure that the scientific breakthrough you led will give rise to medical and other scientific discoveries,” he added.
Warshel, 72, is a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He did his doctorate at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.
He won the prize along with Michael Levitt, a South Africa-born professor who has Israeli citizenship and taught at the Weizmann Institute for most of the 1980s.
Vienna-born Martin Karplus, who also won the prize, fled the Nazi occupation of Austria as a child in 1938.
The trio won the award “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced.
Minister of Science and Technology Yaakov Peri praised Warshel for his achievement and, noting the fact that Warshel left his homeland, said that in addition to strengthening local science education, Israel should focus on drawing academics back to the state.
“The award is a source of national pride for Israeli science,” Perry said.
“Warshel continues the unprecedented tradition of Israeli Nobel Prize winners, but this win sheds light on a real national challenge, which is to help Israeli scientific minds return home,” he said.
Israel has had a series of Nobel winners in the past decade, including two chemistry winners in the last five years: the Technion’s Daniel Schechtman, who won in 2011, and the Weizmann Institute’s Ada Yonath, who took home the award in 2009. In all, Israelis have won six Nobel chemistry prizes in the past decade.
The Weizmann Institute issued an official statement congratulating Wershel and Levitt on their extraordinary accomplishments, and pointed out that the professors had initiated their prize-winning methods at the Institute.
“We extend our hearty congratulations to the new winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry,” the statement read. “Two of the three new laureates have strong ties to Weizmann Institute, and their work on the use of computers to map chemical reactions of large molecules such as enzymes on the atomic scale was first developed at the Weizmann Institute.”
The prize amount, SEK 8 million — some $1.25 million — is to be shared equally between the laureates.
Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report