Technion Alumnus Arieh Warshel has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

54Technion Alumnus, Professor Arieh Warshel, is one of three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2013. Warshel shares his award with his research partners Professor Michael Levitt from the University of Stanford with whom he completed his doctorate at the Weizmann Institute, and Professor Martin Karplus (affiliated with the University of Strasbourg and Harvard University). They will be awarded this prize for “developing computer models of complex chemical processes.”

Warshel, an Israeli-American, was born on November 20, 1940 in Kibbutz Sde Nahum, Israel. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) between 1958-1962, and married Tamar Warshel in 1966. The couple has two daughters, Merav and Yael. Warshel did his undergraduate degree at the Technion, graduating with excellence in 1966. One year before completing his degree, Technion awarded him “The Best Third Year Student in Chemistry.” He did his master’s and doctoral studies at the Weizmann Institute, and in 1969 completed his doctorate. Today he serves as a research professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Warshel has been awarded many prestigious awards, including USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research, and the Annual Award of the International Society for Quantum Biology and Pharmacology (1993). Since 2008 he has been a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (since 2009).

Following the announcement of the award, Technion President, Professor Peretz Lavie said, “I met Arieh two years ago in Los Angeles. He is a modest man, a Hebrew speaker, who maintains his Israeli identity. He has good memories from his studies at Technion. I congratulate him on being awarded the most prestigious award in science. The fact that another Israeli has been awarded the Nobel Prize indicates the great potential inherent in our country, and I hope that we’ll know how to use it advantageously.”

Professor Alon Hoffman, the Dean of Technion’s Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, congratulated all three Nobel Prize winners and said that his is, “Proud to stand at the head of a leading school of chemistry, which has produced yet another Nobel Prize winner.” (Professor Warshel is the fourth Nobel Prize winner with a chemistry education from the Technion in the past decade).

“Warshel studied his four-year undergraduate degree at Technion,” added Professor Hoffman, “And conducted his research project with Professor Ruben Pauncz, the first in Israel to study quantum chemistry. He went on to do his graduate studies at the Weizmann Institute and pursued an independent career in the United States. Professor Warshel and his research partners are pioneers in the field of theoretical and computational chemistry. Thanks to them, computer programs have virtually become a standard simulation tool for chemical processes in research laboratories. The Faculty of Chemistry at Technion is a leader in this advanced research.”

The work by Warshel, Karplus and Levitt is truly groundbreaking as they were able to reconcile between Newton’s classical physics and quantum physics, which differs significantly. Prior to their breakthrough, chemists had to choose between the two. The strength of classical physics is the simple calculations that can be done within its framework, which can be used for modeling large molecules. Its weaknesses lie in the fact that it does not provide a way of modeling chemical reactions. Subsequently, chemists were forced to use quantum physics, calculations that require enormous computing power and therefore were used for only modeling small molecules. This year’s Nobel Prize winners took the best of both worlds, creating methods that use both classical and quantum physics as one.

Above: Professor Arieh Warshel. Photograph from wikicommons