STOCKHOLM — Three U.S.-based scientists won this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for developing powerful computer models that researchers use to understand complex chemical interactions and create new drugs.
Research in the 1970s by Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel has led to programs that unveil chemical processes such as how exhaust fumes are purified or how photosynthesis takes place in green leaves, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. That kind of knowledge makes it possible to find the best design for things like new drugs, solar cells or catalytic converters for cars.
The strength of the winning work is that it can be used to study all kinds of chemistry, the academy said.
"This year's prize is about taking the chemical experiment to cyberspace," said Staffan Normark, the academy's secretary.
All three scientists became U.S. citizens. Karplus, an 83-year-old U.S. and Austrian citizen, splits his time between the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. The academy said Levitt, 66, is a British, U.S., and Israeli citizen and a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel, 72, is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Levitt told The Associated Press the award recognized him for work he had done when he was 20, before he even had his PhD.
"It was just me being in the right place at the right time and maybe having a few good ideas," he said, speaking by telephone from his home in Stanford, California.
"It's sort of nice in more general terms to see that computational science, computational biology is being recognized," he added. "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."
Jokingly, he said the biggest immediate impact of the Nobel Prize would be his need for dance lessons before appearing at the Nobel banquet.
"I would say the only real change in my life is I need to learn how to dance because when you go to Stockholm you have to do ballroom dancing," Levitt said. "This is the big problem I have right now."
Karplus told the AP the 5 a.m. call from the Nobel judges had him worried that the caller might be bearing bad news.
"Usually you think when you get a call at 5 o'clock in the morning it's going to be bad news, you know, something's happened. My daughter, you know, who is in Israel, might have been run over by a car or something or other.
"But it turned out to be good news and, after a while, I finally understood it was a call from Sweden and . I had been awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry with two other people," Karplus said.
Warshel, speaking by telephone to a news conference in Stockholm, said he was "extremely happy" to have been woken up in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he would share the $1.2 million prize, and looks forward to collecting it in the Swedish capital.