Dinner with a Nobel Laureate

Ada Yonath gives this year's Jentschke Lecture, entitled 'DESY and Life’s Vital Bonding Machinery'. PHOTO: Marta Mayer, DESY
Ada Yonath gives this year's Jentschke Lecture, entitled 'DESY and Life’s Vital Bonding Machinery'. PHOTO: Marta Mayer, DESY

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From the Holy See to DESY, it was a typically busy week for Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath recently: one day visiting the Pope in Rome and the next celebrating 50 years of photon science at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg.

Since winning the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her work on solving the structure of the ribosome, the Israeli born crystallographer has done her fair share of travelling and talking. During her few days on the site shared by EMBL Hamburg, she gave a number of presentations, including the renowned Jentschke Lecture, met current DESY scientists, gave interviews, and dined with students and members of the DESY directorate. On the evening of 30 October, it was the turn of EMBL PhD students and postdocs, who joined Yonath for a dinner they will never forget. Here, they share their highlights:

Her optimism and her innovative ideas will act as guidance for my future in science

“I gained a lot more than just scientific knowledge: I saw her passion and motivation for work. When she described her efforts that led to the Noble Prize, she said that she never gave up, regardless of her colleagues’ advice. This optimism and her innovative ideas will act as guidance for my future in science.” – Magda Chegkazi, PhD student, Meijers group

“I loved to see how such an important scientist, who lived an intense life and made great discoveries, still keeps her curiosity and spontaneity alive like a young researcher. She made us feel like we were the ‘old’ ones. Indeed, she made fun of us: ‘I thought I was going for dinner with predocs and postdocs,’ she said, ‘But I find myself dining with housewives!’” Erica Valentini, PhD student, Svergun group

It was amazing to sit on the same table and share a casual meal with someone so inspiring

“The dinner was a very enriching experience. Discussing her work and life was inspiring and encouraging. She is a modest and pleasant person, interested in the problems young scientists face in their work, with the power to motivate people.” – Spyros Chatziefthimiou, Postdoc, Wilmanns group

“It was amazing to sit on the same table and share a casual meal with someone so inspiring: a passionate scientist that still works in the lab, is down to earth and followed her passion even when the odds were against her. Such meetings are of great importance for young scientists like us, showing that we can reach high if we follow our passion.” – Joana Pereira, PhD student, Lamzin group

I now know better Ada Yonath the person, not just the scientist

“She was down to earth, despite the fame and the glory that followed the Nobel prize – a great example for female scientists especially, showing that it’s possible to combine family with a great career.” – Natasha Giannopoulou, PhD student, Wilmanns group

“This was a very special moment in my scientific career – to listen to her lecture and then discuss various topics in person, including my own research. What made this all the more interesting was the social component – I now know better Ada Yonath the person, not just the scientist.” – Nabil Hanna, postdoc, Wilmanns Group


Yonath worked on the EMBL beamlines during her time as head of a unit of the Max Planck Institute at DESY from 1986 to 2004. Over this time, she collected the data that resulted in the Nobel-winning ribosome structure. During an earlier visit to EMBL Hamburg this year, she expressed her gratitude for the Laboratory’s support and encouragement.

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