Crystals, Bouncing X-Rays and Atoms: An American Chemist and the Nobel Prize

Air Date: 12/10/1985
Source:
NBC Nightly News
Creator:
Roger Mudd/Garrick Utley
Air/Publish Date:
12/10/1985
Event Date:
12/10/1985
Resource Type:
News Report
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
1985
Clip Length:
00:04:06

A profile of Herbert Haupman, one of two American scientists awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of molecular magnification.

Crystals, Bouncing X-Rays and Atoms: An American Chemist and the Nobel Prize

ROGER MUDD, anchor:

In Stockholm today, King Carl Gustaf presided at another ceremony, the presentation of the Novel Prizes for literature and the sciences. NBC’s Garrick Utley reports from Stockholm tonight on those prizes and what it takes to win one of them.

GARRICK UTLEY, reporting:

It is the highest international recognition for what the mind can do. A gala celebration and today, Americans received three of the five Nobel Prizes awarded in Stockholm, among them Doctors Herbert Hauptman and Jerome Karle. Like the other winners, they and their wives came to Sweden to accept their prize in chemistry. They say they appreciate the public honor for what they have done, but that it is not what motivates a scientist.

DR. JEROME KARLE (Nobel Prize Winner): The greatest satisfactions come from uncovering some new truths about Mother Nature and the satisfactions are personal.

UTLEY: What does it take to make the scientific discovery that leads to Stockholm and a Nobel Prize? Exceptional intelligence, of course, and long hard work, and there is also something else. I asked Dr. Hauptman about that after he’d learned that had won the prize.

DR. HERBERT HAUPTMAN (Nobel Prize Winner): The motivation, I think, is possibly the strongest single factor. You must become obsessed with the problem and it becomes almost an addiction.

UTLEY: For most of Herbert Hauptman’s life, that obsession has been the structure of life itself. Even in the basement of his home in Buffalo, New York, listening to Bach and practicing his hobby, he forms stained glass into geometric structures. They resemble crystals, but are only a visible approximation of Dr. Hauptman’s other world. Pure research, where years are spent, proving that a theory can become scientific fact. Hauptman’s and Karle’s theory was that a crystal of a basic substance, such as hormones and vitamins, invisible to the naked eye, could be bombarded with x-rays, and then by measuring how the rays bounce off the crystal, the structure of an individual molecule could be determined. The result is this, a three-dimensional depiction of one of the building blocks of life.

DR. HAUPTMAN: In effect, what we have done is to provide a microscope to magnify materials millions of times so that we can see the ultimate structure, the arrangement of the atoms, which constitute the molecule. At the time, I speak for myself, but I think also for Jerry Karle, we did not realize the implications in terms of improved quality of life for people.

SUSAN HUNT (Pharmacologist): It has an impact on patients with infections for antibiotics, patients with heart disease, patients that have cancer, and also, patients for pain control.

Unidentified children: We salute you, Dr. Herbert Hauptman.

UTLEY: Before leaving for Sweden, Herbert Hauptman visited the school where his wife teaches first grade. The students may not have understood exactly what it was that he had done, but they knew it was something important.

DR. HAUPTMAN: I would like to say that I can’t remember when I’ve been touched so deeply. I think I will remember this moment forever. Thank you all very much.

UTELY: Hauptman and Karle carried out their research thirty years ago. It took fifteen years for the scientific world to accept that it worked and another fifteen years for the Nobel committee to bestow the ultimate honor on these scientists. Today, King Gustaf of Sweden presented the Nobel Prize in chemistry to Dr. Jerome Karle and Dr. Herbert Hauptman. Garrick Utley, NBC News, Stockholm.

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