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Nobel Laureate Chemistry 2015: Tomas Lindahl

According to Professor Tomas Lindahl successful scientists have a lot in common with successful musicians. It takes dedication and many hours of practicing. His passion and hard work led him to a completely new research field – and a Nobel Prize. “I like to compare research to artistic activities. Great musicians do not complain when they have to practice. They feel lucky to be able to get paid doing their hobby, and they want to become as good as they possibly can. That is how I feel about my research,” explains Lindahl when we meet on a mild and dark December afternoon in a beautiful Christmas decorated Grand Hotel. Two days later he received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from the hands of his majesty the King of Sweden. The importance of mentors In his speech at the Nobel Banquet Lindahl emphasized the crucial importance of early mentors and teachers. He grew up in a green suburb of Stockholm, Bromma, and was fortunate to have excellent teachers in chemistry, biology, mathematics and literature. His father was a business man and his mother was interested in languages and translations. When the family moved to central Stockholm the teachers at the new school did not like him and he did not like them, and one of them even failed Lindahl in chemistry. “This was serious because I needed good marks to be able to enter the Karolinska Medical School in Stockholm at a later stage. Thanks to the concern and help of my parents, I was fortunately able to return to my previous school and the excellent teachers there who supported me. In particular, I had inspiring help from an outstanding chemistry teacher. Her name was Karin Brandt. Mrs. Brandt encouraged my interest in chemistry,” said Lindahl in his speech. Lindahl entered the Karolinska Medical School in Stockholm and found himself to be more fascinated by medical chemistry and spending time in the laboratory, so he realized that he might not become a very good doctor. Again he emphasizes the importance of a good mentor. As a graduate student he was supervised by the legendary DNA chemist Einar Hammarsten. Hammarsten was the first scientist to show in his early work that DNA is a very large molecule, a macromolecule. He was also known for his temperament and his complete dedication to his research. “Hammarsten was very fascinating and he had an enormous charm. He was completely absorbed by research,” says Lindahl. How stable is DNA really? Together with his former supervisor Lindahl also shares a love for basic research. At the end of the 1960s Lindahl started investigating how stable DNA really is. At this time, the general belief was that the DNA molecule was extremely resilient. Evolution requires mutations, but only a limited number per generation. “We did several interesting projects together. Is the literature accurate with what we observe in the lab?” says Lindahl. “First you have to convince yourself, then others, and you build your observations on r
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