Public debate

Ada Yonath

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The first Israeli woman to receive a Nobel Prize, Ada Yonath is a molecular biologist and a pioneer of research on ribosomes, also known as “protein factories.”

Updated on 21/02/2019

2 min

Born in 1939 in Jerusalem, Ada Yonath is the daughter of Polish Jews who immigrated to Israel in 1933. A graduate in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Jerusalem, she obtained her PhD in 1968 from the Weizmann Institute – where she is still a researcher – during which she worked on the structure of collagen.

After post-doctorates at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and MIT (Boston), she began working on protein structures at Harvard University in 1970, in Professor William Lipscomb’s laboratory – which won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1976.

Among her guiding inspirations, she cites both Marie Curie, the first female winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and her own mother, who encouraged her to nurture the curiosity that she believes has been crucial during her scientific career.

Ada Yonath’s perseverance for more than 20 years in the supposedly impossible study of protein structures earned her the status of a “dreamer” among her colleagues, some of whom even dismissed her work. Yet it was this research, undertaken in the 1970’s, that led her to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry many years later.

At the same time, she developed the technique of cryo-cristallography, which protects proteins from the radiation of X-rays by cooling them and without which she would not have been able to carry out her research. Her most recent work on atomic structures has allowed us to understand how antibiotics interact with cellular systems.

Reaffirming her passion for transmitting knowledge to younger generations, upon her return from the United States in 1970 Ada Yonath founded Israel’s first crystallography laboratory at the Weizmann Institute. With the German biochemist Heinz-Günter Wittman, she then led a research group at the prestigious Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics in Berlin, followed by a unit of the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, all while speaking at many universities, notably the University of Chicago.

In 2009, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a physicist and molecular biologist of Indian origin, and Thomas Steitz, an American biophysicist and biochemist, in recognition of their research on the ribosome.

  • 1939


    Ada Yonath is born in Jerusalem.

  • 1968


    She obtains a PhD in crystallography from the Weizmann Institute.

  • 1969


    Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh offers her her first position as a researcher abroad.

  • 2008


    Ada Yonath wins the L'Oréal-Unesco Prize for Women in Science, which awards researchers who have contributed to physical and life sciences, and the Albert Einstein Prize awarded by the World Cultural Council.

  • 2009


    Alongside Thomas Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Ada Yonath receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on the ribosome.

The Institut français and the scientist.

On 19th June 2018, Ada Yonath took part in a day where high school students got the chance to meet French and Israeli Nobel Prize winners as part of the France-Israel Season.


The France-Israel Season 2018 (June-November 2018) is organised and implemented by the Institut français, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, and the embassies of both countries.

L'institut français, LAB