Foreign-born Americans win Nobel

Three more Nobel Prize laureates, three more foreign-born winners who came to the United States to make their mark.

Continuing a remarkable trend, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Wednesday that this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry will go to Austrian-born Martin Karplus, a Cal Tech graduate who divides his time between Harvard and the University of Strasbourg; Israel-born Arieh Warshel, who teaches at the University of South California; and Michael Levitt, who was born in South Africa, received his doctorate at the University of Cambridge and has taught at Stanford’s medical school for the past quarter-century.

The award came two days after the Nobel panel gave the prize in medicine/physiology to two Americans and to Thomas C. Sudhof, a German-born researcher now teaching at Stanford.

According to statistics compiled by Forbes magazine researcher Jon Bruner and George Mason University’s Institute for Immigration Research, the 2013 results confirm the status of the U.S. as the world’s dominant magnet for scientific and technical talent.

Including this year’s announced winners, 106 of the United States’ 325 Nobel laureates — just under a third — were foreign-born, including 16 Germans, 12 Canadians, 10 British, six Russians and six Chinese, a ratio far higher than any other country.

This year’s chemistry winners were cited by the Swedish academy “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”

The discovery allows scientists to create more accurate computer models that predict rapid and complex chemical processes. The winning design blended classical and quantum physics, which allows researchers to work macroscopically, as well as microscopically on the atomic level.

“It was just me being in the right place at the right time and maybe having a few good ideas,” Mr. Levitt told The Associated Press. “It’s sort of nice in more general terms to see that computational science, computational biology is being recognized. It’s become a very large field and it’s always in some ways been the poor sister, or the ugly sister, to experimental biology.”

Mr. Karplus was born in Vienna, Austria in 1930. In 1953, he earned a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology and has divided his time between Harvard University and the University of Strasbourg.

Mr. Warshel was born in Kibbutz Sde-Nahum, Israel in 1940. He earned a Ph.D. from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science in 1969. He is a professor at the University of Southern California, a position he has held since 1976.

Mr. Levitt was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1947. He earned a Ph.D. in 1971 from the University of Cambridge. Since 1987, Levitt has served on the faculty of Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

Mr. Levitt lived and worked for a while in Israel before leaving for the United States in 1983.

“I can’t say I moved there because the conditions in Israel were not satisfactory,” he told Israel Army Radio Wednesday. “In all honesty, to this day I can’t quite say why I left the country, my connection to it being very strong.”

The trio’s research initially started to solve the applied problem of tracking quick molecule reactions. By using theoretical information, scientists were able to solve a practical problem that could unleash many breakthroughs.

Marinda Li Wu, president of the American Chemical Society, explained that the research worked backward from a problem to a solution in a way that benefits society greatly.

Their research is “bringing better understanding to problems that couldn’t be solved experimentally,” she said. “We’re starting as scientists to better understand things like how pharmaceutical drugs interact with proteins in our body to treat diseases.”

Since the research began in the early 1970s, thousands of laboratories from all over the world have been using the computer methods to make complex calculations, according to systems and computational biology professor Jeremy Berg of the University of Pittsburgh.

New possibilities will begin to take shape for scientific research. Any research that involves increasing the speed of molecules will benefit, including plant photosynthesis, solar panels and automotive catalytic converters. “You could use it, for example, to design drugs, or just, like in my case, to satisfy your curiosity,” Mr. Wershel told reporters.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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