Michael Levitt

Michael Levitt, who was a PhD student in Peterhouse before gaining a Research Fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Levitt, 66, now based at Stanford University, shared the prize with Martin Karplus, of the University of Strasbourg in France and Harvard University, and Arieh Warshel, PhD, of the University of Southern California, "for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems".

Levitt's work focuses on theoretical, computer-aided analysis of protein, DNA and RNA molecules responsible for life at its most fundamental level. Delineating the precise molecular structures of biological molecules is a necessary first step in understanding how they work and in designing drugs to alter their function.

He worked in Cambridge as a PhD student, based at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, from 1968 to 1972, where he developed a computer programme for studying the conformations of molecules that underpinned much of his later work.

Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and a personal friend of Michael Levitt, said:

"Michael Levitt is a brilliant computational structural biologist, who became interested when in Cambridge in the structure of proteins. His ideas as to how they fold and how they might be classified led him to the question as to how they move.

“His understanding of the molecular basis of the potential energies of proteins, derived from the Cartesian coordinates of all the atoms, led him to develop molecular dynamics simulations of proteins. Together with Martin Karplus and Arieh Warshel he transformed the way we look at proteins, taking us away from static structures to thinking about dynamic molecules where flexibility is central to biological functions."

Professor Adrian Dixon, Master of Peterhouse, at the University of Cambridge said:  “The College is very proud of this wonderful achievement.  Michael’s research studentship brought him into very close contact with three other Petrean Nobel Chemistry Laureates (Max Perutz, Sir John Kendrew and Sir Aaron Klug)."

Photo Credit: Stanford University

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