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The Prince of Pain
The Prize
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Fall 1997
The Prize
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"What Paul proposed was a bold idea," observes Arnold Berk, director of the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute that Boyer founded in 1965. "He said the ATP synthase, the enzyme that produces ATP, works with a rotary mechanism, much like a windmill, that captures energy from the flow of protons to fuel the batteries of the cell, the mitochondria, by turning the mechanism and ratcheting it around."

Boyer's novel proposal raised many an eyebrow. Papers were published refuting his rotation theory. Some graduate students on his own research team thought he had gone a bit too far and told him so. "It was a strikingly different concept of enzyme action," Boyer admits. "They were never known to act this way. But when I looked at the data, the only logical explanation I could come up with was rotation. It was frankly so beautiful and so logical that before we even had all the evidence, I had the feeling it was going to be correct."

Since Boyer's series of breakthroughs on ATP, further discoveries by a colleague and co-winner of the Nobel, Cambridge University's John E. Walker, have proved the farsightedness of the UCLA scientist's vision. And just last spring, a team of Japanese scientists using advanced techniques filmed for the first time the ATP enzyme in its strange, whirling dance.

"All you saw was this little fuzzy white thing moving around," says Boyer, who hopes to use part of his prize money to help the postdoctoral students he credits with doing much of the grunt work in basic science. "But to me -- the gratification I felt when I saw this was so deep. I thought of all the wonderful people I've worked with in the lab all those years. It was very satisfying."

Caption: When Paul Boyer receives his Nobel medal from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden December 10, he'll be accompanied by 18 family members, including his grandson, Imran Clark, a UCLA graduate student at the Molecular Biology Institute.

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