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Spring 2000
Nobel Men
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Persevering despite the skepticism of a scientific community that at first ignored their ideas, three UCLA Nobel laureates have gone on to achievements that deepen our understanding of human existence and perhaps even open the gateway to longer life

by Warren Olney

As the very center of worldwide celebrity culture, Southern California is often dismissed as a place devoted more to image than substance. But, for all the attention we give to the stars of athletic arenas and movie screens, there is another galaxy in the local firmament, composed of people who really are changing the universe as we know it in fundamental ways.

Three of these are UCLA scientists who have received the Nobel Prize, two of them on the chemistry faculty in the College of Letters and Science and one in the School of Medicine. These are not people with press agents, retinues or the other trappings that often go with global acclaim. But neither are they the protected denizens of dark laboratories, who shrink from outside exposure. All, in fact, are elegant and worldly gentlemen, gracious and open, willing to suffer an interviewer gladly, despite the immense gulf of knowledge, understanding and discipline that separates them.

The extraordinary scientific achievements that earned them the world's most prestigious award are as different from one another as their fields of study: chemistry, organic chemistry and medicine. But, their individua stories reveal interesting and important similarities.

All three prizes were rewarded for new insights that have deepened human understanding of how life works and increased the prospects for individual health, not to mention survival of the species. All three researchers persevered in their work despite the skepticism of established scientific communities, which at first ignored, or even denigrated, their ideas.

Although they were at different stages of their careers when they achieved laureate status, all three have been profoundly affected. They all discuss their work and its impact with a combination of intense pride and personal modesty. And, if there's anything for the lay person to learn directly from their success, it may be that all three-regardless of age-are practitioners, as well as advocates, of vigorous physical exercise.


2005 The Regents of the University of California