Nobel connections

Oct 11, 2012

I was standing at my bathroom sink early yesterday morning, my face covered in shaving cream, when I heard the news that Robert Lefkowitz, MD, had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I couldn’t get cleaned up and dressed fast enough, and to my laptop in order to get to the fun of sharing in the excitement at Duke. Since Dr. Lefkowitz is a professor of medicine, I immediately posted the great news to the MedicineNews blog.

Duke University was abuzz, and demonstrably proud of the accomplishment of Lefkowitz as scientist and, importantly, mentor. He’s sharing the prize with a former postdoc in his lab, Brian Kobilka, who is now at Stanford. The Duke news conference — watch the archived video on Duke’s ustream channel — also gives you a sense for Lefkowitz’s humor and personality: “If people know I won the Noble Prize, great. If they don’t, I ain’t gonna tell ‘em.”

That made me think back to August of last year, when I was in his office along with New York photographer Richard Corman (check out the cool portraits on his site), one stop on our tour of the Department of Medicine. Lefkowitz had us in stitches the whole time, joking about his New York past and the Yankees of yore.

“Why are you so funny,” Richard asked him.

Lefkowitz told us that he has used humor in his lab meetings for a long time.

“I tell jokes, and the fellows laugh. And when they laugh, they’re making connections. And that’s what science is, making connections.”

That’s a great insight. Of course, his Nobel is for his contributions to our understanding of how G protein– coupled receptors allow connections between molecules and cells, and without those connections, we’d not be able to live and learn and laugh and celebrate a Nobel Prize coming to Duke.

Congratulations, Dr. Lefkowitz!

Anton Zuiker

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