Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel won this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry for laying the foundation for computer models used to understand chemical processes. (Associated Press)

Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel are the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work modeling chemical processes using computers. Karplus is affiliated with Harvard University and the University of Strasbourg in France, Levitt teaches at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Warshel is at the University of Southern California.

They did the work for which they received the prize decades ago:

Levitt told the Associated Press the award recognized him for work he had done when he was 20, before he even had his PhD.

“It was just me being in the right place at the right time and maybe having a few good ideas,” he said, speaking by telephone from his home in Stanford, California.

“It’s sort of nice in more general terms to see that computational science, computational biology is being recognized,” he added. “It’s become a very large field and it’s always in some ways been the poor sister, or the ugly sister, to experimental biology.” . . .

Warshel, speaking by telephone to a news conference in Stockholm, said he was “extremely happy” to have been woken up in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he would share the $1.2 million prize and looks forward to collecting it in the Swedish capital.

“In short, what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does,” Warshel said.

When scientists wanted to simulate complex chemical processes on computers, they used to have to choose between software that was based on quantum physics, which applies on the scale of an atom, or classical Newtonian physics, which operates at larger scales. The academy said the three laureates developed computer models that “opened a gate between these two worlds.”

Associated Press

See images of the ceremony in the gallery below.

On Monday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine to James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof for their work on how living cells transport microscopic cargo. After receiving the award, they discussed their concerns about funding for scientific research in the United States:

Schekman, whose first major grant was from the National Institutes of Health in 1978, said winning the Nobel Prize made him reflect on how his original proposal might have fared in today’s depressed funding climate. “It would have been much, much more difficult to get support,” he said.

Likewise, Rothman wondered: “Would I have been able to have the initiative, to take the risk? I really am very concerned I would not have been.”

Südhof said that the funding situation in Washington “worries me tremendously.”

“I do think there’s a danger that . . . the system will stop and we won’t progress at the rate that would benefit our nation,” he said.

Ariana Eunjung Cha

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert received the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for their theoretical work on the Higgs boson, the elusive fundamental particle that scientists finally located using particle accelerators last year. Others, however, might have deserved the prize equally:

Carl Richard Hagen put his cellphone by the bed before he retired Monday night, just in case. The call from Stockholm, if it came, would come before dawn Tuesday.

Hagen, 76, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester, is one of six physicists, five of them still alive, who have been credited with developing the theory that led to the epic quest for the particle known as the Higgs boson. Scientists at CERN, the European physics laboratory, announced last year in Geneva that they had found it with the atom-smasher called the Large Hadron Collider.

Tuesday morning, Hagen awoke at 6:30 and looked at his phone.

No calls.

Hagen was part of a collaboration with two other theorists in a key 1964 theoretical paper. For the Swedish Academy to have recognized Hagen, they would have had to honor his co-authors as well, which would have meant bypassing Higgs and Englert. Or the academy could have broken its own rules and made all five laureates.

“Faced with a choice between their rulebook and an evenhanded judgment, the Swedes chose the rulebook,” Hagen said in a blunt e-mail shortly thereafter. “Not a graceful concession by any means, but that department has never been my strong suit.”

Hagen’s collaborator Gerald Guralnik, a professor of physics at Brown University, discovered that he’d been bypassed when he turned on his computer Tuesday morning.

“It stings a little,” Guralnik said. But he added: “All in all, it’s a great day for science. I’m really proud to have been associated with this work that has turned out to be so important.”

Joel Achenbach

The Nobel Prize in literature will be awarded Thursday, and the peace prize will be announced Friday. The final prize, in economics, will be awarded Monday.