Many miles and years removed from the competitive dinner-table debates of his childhood in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, Yale chemist Thomas A. Steitz awoke at 5:20 Wednesday morning to the sound of a ringing phone, long distance from Sweden.
Steitz, the caller said, had won the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry. One by one, members of the Nobel Committee then got on the phone to offer personal congratulations.
"They wanted to be sure I knew this was not a hoax," Steitz said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel. "Since I knew some of the members of the committee, I could recognize their voices."
Sharing the prize and the $1.4 million with Steitz, 69, were Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in England and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The three scientists were honored for fundamental work that revealed the structure and function of ribosomes, which transform our DNA into the proteins necessary for virtually every human action from breathing to thinking.