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Science flourishes when left free: Nobel laureate Stefan Hell

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Bengaluru, Jan 5 (IANS) Science flourishes when left free without big directions as to where it should go, said German national scientist and 2014 Chemistry Nobel laureate Stefan Hell at the 107th Indian Science Congress (ISC) .

“Real transformations in science do not come in a planned way. And therefore it is not really possible to plan, so we cannot really plan what we were discovering for in the end. What we were hoping for,” said Hell at an interaction on the sidelines of the science congress in this tech hub on Saturday.

Currently heading the Department of NanoBiophotonics at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany, Hell highlighted that governments usually are interested in short-term outcomes.

“Governments are interested in applied sciences which is understandable, I am not criticising it. Although it is understandable that there is some applied science, there must be room for say blue sky research,” said the 57-year-old Nobel laureate who is also an honorary professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the Heidelberg University.

Between 1993 and 1996, Hell worked as a senior researcher at the University of Turku, Finland where he developed the principle of STED microscopy.

Hell highlighted that he and 2009 Israeli Chemistry Nobel laureate Ada Yonath are national scientists whose job is to understand how nature works and what can be done in it.

Commenting on nature, Hell said, “Nature has its own laws and we cannot make up the laws, they are what they are. It is very important for scientists to detach from opinions, beliefs, traditions and whatever and to go just after what you observe.”

He said that a scientist cannot be successful unless he is open and frank to the result he obtains through his experiments, as nature is what it is.

Recollecting the hard work a scientist has to go through, Yonath, from The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel said many people called her a dreamer who did not know what she wanted.

“I have suffered this harassment for more than a decade. I have repeated experiments a 100 times,” said 80-year-old Yonath who first visited India 40 years ago.

According to Nobelprize.org, Yonath started a project in 1970s which culminated in 2000 in successfully mapping ribosome structures, along with other researchers, which contained hundreds of thousands of atoms, employing x-ray crystallography.

The Israeli scientist heaped praise on Indian scientist G. N. Ramachandran, calling him her mentor and a genius.

“Ramachandran is a genius who understood natural processes excellently,” Yonath told, detailing how they both competed with each other.

Though Ramachandran was her professor, Yonath said on one occasion she managed to get a correct answer while he got it wrong.

Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) described Ramachandran as a jewel in the crown of Indian science.

Commenting on why Jews have won the highest number of Nobel prizes, Yonath said the community faced numerous upheavals and forced departures in history.

“You cannot go with property but with brains. We were educated to respect knowledge,” she said.

For successful development of science and technology, Yonath adviced India to encourage curiosity, originality and not get afraid to ask questions.

“Don’t take advice, do what you want to do,” added Yonath.

Yonath shared her Nobel prize with Indian scientist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz in 2009 in Chemistry discipline, for her studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.



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