Ramakrishnan in 2015
1952 (age 64â€“65)
Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India
Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (BSc Physics)
|Thesis||The Green Function Theory of the Ferroelectric Phase Transition in Potassium Dihydrogen-Phosphate (1976)|
|Doctoral advisor||Tomoyasu Tanaka|
Structure and function of the ribosome
Peter B. Moore
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2009)
|Spouse||Vera Rosenberry (m. 1975)|
|Children||1 son, 1 stepdaughter|
I cannot imagine a more enjoyable place to work than in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology where I work.
There is no room for political, personal or religious ideologies in science.
The Royal Society view is completely apolitical: it will judge anything based on the evidence. One of the big strengths of the Society is that is it widely perceived as impartial and above the fray. We’d like to make sure it stays that way.
I am very grateful for the dedicated work and intellectual contributions of generations of talented postdocs, students and research assistants without whom none of the work from my laboratory would have been possible.
Unusually for an Indian man of his generation, my father, being aware of my mother’s intellectual abilities, encouraged her to go abroad by herself to obtain a Ph.D.
I think it’s important to give young people the freedom to follow their ideas and pursue their interests.
Like the women in my family, I’ve found the women in my lab a hard-nosed, ambitious lot who have gone on to be faculty members at top universities. In my own family, it is my father who is prone to bursting into tears.
Nobody has approached me about an offer to work in India. However, I can categorically state that if they did so, I would refuse immediately.
My mother, R. Rajalakshmi, taught at Annamalai University in Chidambaram, and during the day, I was well cared for by aunts and grandparents in the usual way of an extended Indian family.
I knew the ribosome was going to be the focus of Nobel prizes. It stands at the crossroads of biology, between the gene and what comes out of the gene. But I had convinced myself I was not going to be a winner.
I think we are intrinsically prone to being irrational and superstitious. A lot of it comes from our fear of the unknown and the fear of a lack of control over our fate.
I’m very grateful to have had many brilliant students and post-docs who have worked with me. Potential is often hard to spot, but a key factor is whether they express a genuine interest in the problem and how they have thought about it.
It takes a certain amount of courage to tackle very hard problems in science, I now realise. You don’t know what the timescale of your work will be: decades or only a few years.
We benefit tremendously from the E.U. Britain does very well in getting back E.U. money for the amount it puts in.
Governments and scientists in India need to ensure that politics and religious ideology do not intrude into science. They belong to separate spheres, and if they are not kept separate, it is science in India and the country as a whole that will suffer.
My earlier exposure to physics certainly helped me in the use of biophysical techniques like crystallography, the use of computing, calculations, etc.
Even the best scientists are often insecure and feel the need for recognition.
I realise I have inadvertently become a source of inspiration and hope for people in India simply by the fact that I grew up there, went to my local university, but could go on to do well internationally.
People go into science out of curiosity, not to win awards. But scientists are human and have ambitions.
I began studying ribosomes as a postdoctoral fellow in Peter Moore’s laboratory in 1978.
We live in an increasingly technological world where the issues are quite complex and based on some complicated science.
I was born in 1952 in Chidambaram, an ancient temple town in Tamil Nadu best known for its temple of Nataraja, the lord of dance.
It’s not about where you were born or where you come from that makes you a good scientist. What you need are good teachers, co-students, facilities.
We are all human beings, and our nationality is simply an accident of birth.
The success in the determination of the high-resolution structures of ribosomal subunits and eventually the whole ribosome was the culmination of decades of effort.
Science today is a highly collaborative exercise, and to convert it into a contest, as the Nobel does, is a bad way to look at science.
I remember reading a ‘Scientific American’ article about the use of new physical techniques – including neutron scattering – as a method for unravelling the structure of the ribosome. I was fascinated.
Science is an international enterprise where discoveries in one part of the world are useful in other parts.
If you go to a second-rate place, and you are first-rate, it is very difficult to do first-rate work because you do not get that critical feedback you need for first-rate work on a daily basis.
Scientists are not movie stars or politicians who will feel insulted if they are not showered with accolades. Scientists are not interested in accolades.
Ultimately, biological phenomena involve molecules, and understanding them involves understanding the underlying chemistry. In my opinion, this is a particularly exciting area of chemistry.
I started working on ribosomes when I was a post doc, in 1978, when it would have been impossible, really, to solve it. But, it was just a fundamental problem in biology.
It’s for scientists to lay out the data and lay out what they think, and then it’s for the public to make up its own mind. We don’t live in a priesthood where some small group imposes its views on other people – that’s not the way that science works, and it’s not the way a democratic society should work.
During the decade following the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA, the problem of translation – namely, how genetic information is used to synthesize proteins – was a central topic in molecular biology.
There’s a perception out there that the U.K. has become unfriendly to immigrants. Even if that isn’t true, the very fact that that is the perception will make people not even want to come.
I am still the same person doing the same science. Why are people so impressed when some academy in Sweden gives an award?
I had an excellent math and physics teacher in high school named T.C. Patel, and in the university, I had truly dedicated professors in both physics and mathematics who gave me a sound foundation with which to pursue graduate studies.
My childhood and adolescence were filled with visiting scientists from both India and abroad, many of whom would stay with us. A life of science struck me as being both interesting and particularly international in its character.