Birth Date: 22 June 1939
Place of Birth: Jerusalem, British Mandate for Palestine
Nationality: Israeli
Occupation/Field of Study Israeli biochemist, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


KEYWORDS: Ada E. Yonath, Nobel Prize laureates, Israeli scientists, Biochemistry, Crystallography



Ada E. Yonath was the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize. She shared it with Thomas Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan for having identified “the structure and function of the ribosome”1 by means of crystallography. This discovery explained the functioning of numerous existing antibiotics and is helping create new ones1.

Since the end of the 1970s, Yonath’s scientific career has been centred around ribosomes, specifically around how they function by determining their structure using x-ray crystallography. A ribosome is “the cellular organelle [which catalyzes] the translation of genetic code into proteins”2. They are found in every cell.

After more than 25 thousand attempts, Yonath and her team created the first ribosome crystal in the 1980s. They perfected the process in the following two decades until they produced an electron density map of the ribosome’s small subunit3 and, in 2000, succeeded in recreating “the first complete 3-D structures of both subunits of the bacterial ribosome”3.

Their research has explained the decoding of genetic information4 and the way antibiotics work3. Thanks to their work, improved and more effective antibiotics are now being made3.



Ada Yonath at the Weizmann Institute of Science

Born in Jerusalem in 1939, Yonath grew up in unfavorable conditions, losing her father at the age of eleven and having to work to contribute to the family income3. She attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she obtained a BSc in 1962 and an MSc in chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics in 1964. Her doctoral research was carried out at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

She did her postdoctoral fellowship between 1968 and 1969 at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), both in the USA. Upon her return to the Weizmann Institute, Yonath established a biological crystallography laboratory, the first of its kind in the country. She focused on determining the 3-D structure of the ribosome in order to better understand its functioning3 —a task that took over twenty years to be accomplished.

Her research was carried out in collaboration with Heinz-Günter Wittmann from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin. She was the head of the Max Planck Research Unit in Hamburg between 1986 and 2004 and visiting professor or scientist at various universities from Chile to Alabama. In 1989, Yonath became the director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for the Study of Biomolecular Structure and Assembly at the Weizmann Institute (founded in 1988), a position that she still holds today.



Education will change this inequality. Stop telling teenagers that a demanding profession prevents one from being a good mother. I have a granddaughter who thinks I’m the best grandmother in the world! (my translation)

cited by Nicot, Marie (30 Jan. 2011), “Ada Yonath, Prix Nobel de la curiosité”, Le Journal de dimanche, <> (last accessed 12 Jul. 2016).

I don’t think doing science is difficult because you are a woman. What it is difficult to be a woman about [sic], is the same for a scientist, for a business woman, for a reporter. […] Society is, or was, against intellect in women and the idea that women could compete in an intellectual or scientific way. It’s not that it is difficult for a woman to do science. Science is very demanding from both men and women. I didn’t feel any gender problem and I think that everyone I know from my girl friends, no one complains directly about a gender problem. Science just is demanding – you cannot enjoy science unless you are curious and usually you do well because you educate yourself and you work hard, because you like it, not because you are a woman or a man.

cited in “An Interview with Ada Yonath” (2010), interviewed by Lorena Guzman and Lou Woodley, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, <> (last accessed 14 Jul. 2016).



Yonath holds more than 25 honorary doctorates from universities all over the world and over 30 awards. The following is a selection of the most relevant accolades she has received:

1974: Somach Sachs Award for Outstanding Work in Biochemistry
1990: Kolthof Award for Outstanding Research in Chemistry, Haifa, Israel
2000: The First European Crystallography Prize, Nancy, France
2000: The Kilby International Award, USA
2002: Harvey Prize for Natural Sciences, the Technion, Israel
2002: The F.A. Cotton Medal, the USA Chemical Society, USA
2002: The Israel Prize for Chemical Research
2003: Medal of distinction, Israeli Chemical Society
2003: The Anfinsen Prize of the Protein Society, Boston, USA
2004: The Massry Foundation International Award and Medal for Ribosome Research
2004: The Paul Karrer Gold Medal, Zurich, Switzerland
2005: Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize of Columbia University, NYC
2006: The Israel Prime Minister EMET award
2006: The Rothschild Prize for Life Sciences
2007: The Paul Ehrlich-Ludwig Darmstaedter Medal, Germany
2007: The Wolf Prize, Jerusalem, Israel
2008: Albert Einstein World Award of Science, Princeton University, NJ, USA.
2008: The George E. Palade Gold Medal, Wayne State U. Medical School, Detroit, USA
2008: The Linus Pauling Gold Medal – Stanford, USA
2008: The UNESCO-L’Oréal Award for European Woman in Life Science, Paris
2009: Erice Prize for Peace, Rome, the Vatican
2009: Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Stockholm, Sweden
2010: Wilhelm-Exner-Medaille, Vienna, Austria
2011: City of Florence Award
2011: Erna Hamburger Prize EFEL-WISH Foundation, Lausanne
2011: Maria Sklodowska-Curie Medal of the Polish Chemical Society
2012: Prakash S. Datta medal, FEBS, Seville 2012
2013: Distinguished Science Award, Galapagos
2015: The Roentgen Medal, Germany



Ze Animation (13 Sep. 2007), “Ribosome in action”, YouTube, uploaded by EffortlessActions, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016). Video based on Yonath’s findings. (9 Sep. 2008), “Portrait d’Ada Yonath, biologiste”, Dailymotion, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016). Short documentary about Yonath’s life and work. 

Parrish, Claudine (dir.) (2009), Nobel Highlights, Blakeway Productions, Nobel Media, television.

Lawday, Amy (dir.), “Weizmann Institute Of Science – The Ada Yonath Story” (7 Dec. 2010), prod. Liron Reiter,  Vimeo, uploaded by Amy Lawday Productions,  <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).

Rivas, Fabián (2015), Portrait of Ada E. Yonath (illustration), digital art, <> (last accessed 20 Jul. 2016).



The following is a selection of Yonath’s key publications. A complete list of her works is accessible from the Weizmann Institute at <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).

with J. Muessig/ B. Tesche / S. Lorenz / V.A. Erdmann / H.G. Wittmann (1980), “Crystallization of the large ribosomal subunit from B. stearothermophilus”, Biochem Int, 1, 428-35.

with H. Hope/ F. Frolow / K. von Boehlen / I. Makowski / C. Kratky / Y. Halfon / H. Danz / P. Webster / K. Bartels / H.G. Wittmann (1989), “ Cryocrystallography of Ribosomal Particles ”, Acta Crystallogr B, 45, 190-99.

with F. Franceschi (1998), “Functional universality and evolutionary diversity: insights from the structure of the ribosome”, Structure, 6, 679-84.

with F. Schluenzen / A. Tocilj / R. Zarivach / J. Harms / M. Gluehmann / D. Janell / A. Bashan / H. Bartels / I. Agmon / F. Franceschi (2000), “Structure of functionally activated small ribosomal subunit at 3.3 A resolution”, Cell, 102, 615-23.

with T. Auerbach / A. Bashan / J. Harms / F. Schluenzen / R. Zarivach / H. Bartels / I. Agmon / M. Kessler / M. Pioletti / F. Franceschi (2002), “Antibiotics targeting ribosomes: crystallographic studies”, Curr Drug Targets – Infectious Disorders, 2, 169-86.

with P. Pfister / N. Corti / S. Hobbie / C. Bruell / R. Zarivach / E. C Boettger (2005), “23S rRNA base-pair 2057-2611 determines ketolide susceptibility and fitness cost of the macrolide resistance mutation 2058A->G”, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 102, 5180-5.

“Merging disciplines: chemical bases of life processes are revealed by X-ray crystallography” (2011), Sci China Chem, 54, 2021-3.

“Ribosomes: Ribozymes that Survived Evolution Pressures but Is Paralyzed by Tiny Antibiotics” (2012), in Macromolecular Crystallography, ed. M.A. Carrondo and P. Spadon, NATO Science for Peace and Security Series A: Chemistry and Biology, Dordrecht, Springer, 195-208.

with M. Krupkin / A. Bashan, “Glimpse into the Origin of Life: What was First, the Genetic Code or its Products, the Proteins?” (2014),  In Why does Evolution Matter? The Importance of Understanding Evolution, ed. G. Trueba, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 87-100.



“Ada E. Yonath (1939-), Nobel Prize laureate biochemist” (2011), Chemgeneration, <——).html> (last accessed 14 Jul. 2016).

“Ada E. Yonath – Biographical” (2014),, Nobel Media AB,  <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).

“ADA YONATH – CURRICULUM VITAE Dec. 2016” (2016), Weizmann Institute of Science, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).

“An Interview with Ada Yonath” (2010), interviewed by Lorena Guzman and Lou Woodley, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, <> (last accessed 14 Jul. 2016).

“Episode #1.32”, HaMakor (3 Feb. 2010), Hadashot 10, Channel 10 (Israel), television.

Nicot, Marie (30 Jan. 2011), “Ada Yonath, Prix Nobel de la curiosité”, Le Journal de dimanche, <> (last accessed 12 Jul. 2016).

“Ribosome structure and function, Professor Ada E. Yonath group” (2015), Weizmann Institute of Science, <> (last accessed 14 Jul. 2016).

“The Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly” (2011), Weizmann Institute of Science, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).

Yonath, Ada (20 Aug. 2014), “‘I consider science a luxury’: In Conversation with Ada Yonath” , interviewed by Renee Beale, The Conversation, <> (last accessed 14 Jul. 2016).

— (20 Feb. 2014), “There Was a Time in My Life when I Made 2 000 Sandwiches a Day”, Nobel Prize Talks Podcast from Nobel Media AB, interviewed by Adam Smith, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).



  1. “Ada E. Yonath – Facts” (2014),, Nobel Media AB, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).
  2. “Ribosomal Crystallography” (2014), Weizmann Institute of Science, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).
  3. “Ada E. Yonath – Biographical” (2014), org, Nobel Media AB,  <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).
  4. “Beyond the Basics” (2016), Ada Yonath – Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009, Weizmann Institute of Science, <> (last accessed 19 Jul. 2016).
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