Thomas Steitz ’62 became Lawrence University’s first Nobel laureate Wednesday, Oct. 7 when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry would go to Steiz, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Ada Yonath “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.” In addition to the prestige associated with a Nobel, each scientist will receive a third of the 10 million Swedish kronor prize, valued at approximately $1.4 million. All three scientists have successfully mapped the molecular structure of the ribosome using a technique called x-ray crystallography. One seminal paper detailing Steitz’s work, titled “The Complete Atomic Structure of the Large Ribosomal Subunit at 2.4 Resolution,” appeared in the journal Science in 2000. According to a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, ribosomes “produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms. As ribosomes are crucial to life, they are also a major target for new antibiotics.” Thus, ribosome research has a large impact on human health. Currently, Steitz is the Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. When he was at Lawrence, Steitz was mentored by Robert Rosenberg, emeritus professor of chemistry at Lawrence University and adjunct professor of chemistry at Northwestern University. Rosenberg served as a professor of chemistry at Lawrence from 1956 to 1991, when he retired. Rosenberg recalled that Steitz “was clearly a very strong student, with a keen curiosity and a drive to learn as much as he could.” According to Rosenberg, Steitz turned a critical eye to many aspects of his studies. “When he spent a term at the Associated Colleges of the Midwest program at Argonne National Laboratory, he had sensible criticisms of his research supervisor there,” Rosenberg said. He added that, like so many Lawrence students, Steitz had broad interests in the liberal arts and music. “A liberal arts college like Lawrence encourages student breadth, and Tom [Steitz] took advantage of that opportunity,” said Rosenberg. “One reason that he came to Lawrence was that he would be able to continue study on his trumpet at the Lawrence Conservatory.” Steitz graduated from Lawrence cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Although Rosenberg said he had “no idea” Steitz would be a Nobel laureate, he was sure Steitz would “be a good scientist.” Rosenberg added that Lawrence’s liberal arts environment fosters the kind of meteoric career that Steitz has achieved. “At Lawrence, classes are small, and the faculty takes a personal interest in students,” Rosenberg said. “A good student can take advantage of that faculty contact to learn more than he or she could learn from class alone.” Rosenberg provided some advice, saying that current Lawrence students will find great success in their careers if “they are smart enough and work very hard.