Nobel Winner Speaks at Lafayette
Martin Chalfie won chemistry prize in 2008
Speaking to a group of about 200 students and faculty at Lafayette College Tuesday night, Nobel Prize winner Martin Chalfie explained what he learned about scientists growing up.
“Scientists are all geniuses, scientists’ experiments work all the time, scientists use the scientific method and are purposeful, scientists work alone, and scientists (except for Marie Curie) are men,” Chalfie said at the start of the lecture, and then went on to explain how he learned those things weren't true.
Chalfie didn't work alone. Known for his work on green fluorescent protein (GFP), he shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Roger Tsien and Osamu Shimomura, both of whom he acknowledged and honored during the lecture.
He went on to tell how his now extremely well-known paper, “Green Fluorescent Protein as a Marker for Gene Expression,” came together with a bit of help from his wife’s unpublished research. However, her assistance came at a price for Chalfie, as he showed a letter she had written him explaining that he may cite her materials under three conditions:
- He would have coffee prepared each morning by 8:30
- He would cook a dinner of French food.
- He would take out the trash nightly for one month.
Admittedly a poor chemistry student, Chalfie’s work with GFP has been a groundbreaking discovery in the science community.
Listing several advantages of GFP as a biological marker, Chalfie explained that DNA is inherited, that using it does not hurt the subject organism, that its’ small size allows it to fill and outline a cell completely, and that it can be seem in living cells and organisms.
Chalfie, in closing, listed what his research on GFB has taught him, contradicting the fallacies he opened with.
- Scientific success comes via many routes.
- Many (most) discoveries are accidental.
- Ignorance, stubbornness, and a willingness to try helps.
- Scientific progress is cumulative.
- Students and postdocs are the real lab innovators.
- All life should be studied, not just model organisms.
- Basic research is essential.
Since Chalfie’s story, “Green Fluorescent Protein as a Marker for Gene Expression,” was published, he estimates that over 60,000 scientific articles have used GFB in their research.