Ada E. Yonath

The structure and function of the ribosome

Born: 22 June 1939

Country: Israel

Nationality: Israeli

Field: Crystallography

Institution: Weizmann Institute of Science

Known for: Cryo bio-crystallography

Notable awards: Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009 "For studies of the structure and function of the ribosome" with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz

Ada E. Yonath is an Israeli crystallographer best known for her pioneering work on the structure of the ribosome. She is the current director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2009, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz for her studies on the structure and function of the ribosome, becoming the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize out of ten Israeli Nobel laureates, the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel prize in the sciences, and the first woman in 45 years to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Yonath was born in the Geula quarter of Jerusalem. Her parents, Hillel and Esther Lifshitz, were Zionist Jews who immigrated to Palestine from Zduńska Wola, Poland in 1933 before the establishment of Israel. She returned to Jerusalem for college, graduating from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1962, and a master's degree in biochemistry in 1964. In 1968, she obtained her Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science for X-ray crystallographic studies on the structure of collagen, with Wolfie Traub as her Ph.D. advisor. She has one daughter, Hagit Yonath, a doctor at Sheba Medical Center, and a granddaughter, Noa.

Yonath accepted postdoctoral positions at Carnegie Mellon University (1969) and MIT (1970). While a postdoc at MIT she spent some time in the lab of subsequent 1976 chemistry Nobel Prize winner William N. Lipscomb, Jr. of Harvard University where she was inspired to pursue very large structures.

In 1970, she established what the only protein crystallography laboratory in Israel was for nearly a decade. Then, from 1979 to 1984 she was a group leader with Heinz-Günter Wittmann at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. She was visiting professor at the University of Chicago in 1977-78. She headed a Max-Planck Institute Research Unit at DESY in Hamburg, Germany (1986–2004) in parallel to her research activities at the Weizmann Institute.