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Stanford researcher Michael Levitt receives his Nobel Prize

Quiz answers: How well do you know Stanford Medicine’s Nobel laureates?

Answers to a quiz on Stanford Medicine's eight Nobel laureates, recognized for contributions in physiology/medicine, chemistry and physics.

In its 110-year history, Stanford Medicine proudly counts eight Nobel laureates, recognized for contributions in physiology/medicine, chemistry and physics.

How well do you know these men and their research?

First, take the quiz.

Then, spoiler alert: Here are the answers.

1. What year was the first year that a Stanford Medicine researcher won a Nobel Prize?

b) 1959. The late Arthur Kornberg, MD, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Severo Ochoa, who at that time was at New York University. Kornberg was honored for the test-tube synthesis of DNA, the blueprint of heredity, and Ochoa for the synthesis of RNA, the genetic message derived from DNA.

2. In what year did Stanford Medicine researchers win both the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry?

d) Both 2006 and 2013. In 2006, Andrew Fire, PhD, professor of pathology and of genetics, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery related to RNA interference; and Roger Kornberg, PhD, a professor of structural biology, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his multidisciplinary research into how DNA is converted into RNA, a process known as transcription.

In 2013, Thomas Südhof, MD, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, won the physiology/medicine prize for his work in exploring how neurons in the brain communicate across synapses; and Michael Levitt, PhD, a professor of structural biology, won the chemistry prize for the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems.

3. Which of these quotes are NOT from a Stanford Medicine Nobel laureate after learning he’d been awarded the prize?

a) "I’m trying to think of something very suitable to say. What do you think I should say?" This quote came from Doris Lessing, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.

Here are the other quotes matched to the Stanford Nobel laureate who said them:

b) "It was like having five double espressos." — Michael Levitt
c) "I’m absolutely surprised." — Thomas Südhof
d) "After I spoke with about five people — they handed the phone around — with really convincing Swedish accents, I started to think it was for real." — Brian Kobilka, PhD

4. Which of these Nobel Prize-winning achievements was NOT from a Stanford Medicine scientist?

c) Discovering an “inner GPS” in the brain that makes it possible to orient ourselves in space. John O’Keefe, PhD, May-Britt Moser, PhD, and Edvard Moser, PhD — none of whom have an affiliation with Stanford — received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for this achievement.

Here are the accomplishments of Stanford Medicine laureates matched to the researcher:

a) Developing sophisticated computer algorithms to build models of complex biological molecules. — Michael Levitt
b) Discovering how DNA is synthesized. — Arthur Kornberg
d) Discovering that certain RNA molecules can be used to turn off specific genes in animal cells. — Andrew Fire

5. True or False: More than four decades apart, two Stanford professors who are father and son — and both affiliated with the medical school — each won a Nobel Prize.

True. Arthur Kornberg received the prize in physiology/medicine in 1959, and his son Roger Kornberg was awarded the chemistry prize in 2006.

6. Which Nobel laureate was born at Stanford Hospital?

a) Andrew Fire. He has strong ties to Northern California: Raised in Sunnyvale, he received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.

7. Which Nobel laureate described his work in this way: “The brain works by neurons communicating via synapses. We’d like to understand how synapse communication leads to learning on a larger scale. How are the specific connections established? How do they form? And what happens in schizophrenia and autism when these connections are compromised?”

b) Thomas Südhof.  His work has continued since receiving the award, with studies in 2015 unveiling new findings about beta-neurexins, proteins that sit on the surface of a transmitting nerve cell, anchoring it to the next nerve cell in the relay and thus helping maintain stability at the synapse.

8. True or False: A Stanford Nobel laureate is a teacher for a medical school course during the 2018-19 school year.

True. Brian Kobilka, MD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology and recipient of the 2012 chemistry prize, is a teacher in the pharmacologic treatment of disease series.

9. Which Nobel laureate is a pioneer of computational structural biology and also, with his wife, once designed a wire sculpture for the Burning Man festival in Nevada?

a) Michael Levitt. His late wife, Rina, was an artist. She designed the piece, called Unity, and Levitt used a computer to calculate the exact shape and dimensions for the single long wire outline.

10. Steven Chu, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor and professor of molecular and cellular physiology at the Stanford School of Medicine, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1997 in which category?

a) Physics. Chu was recognized for "development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."

11. At the age of 91, this Stanford Medicine Nobel laureate spoke at the medical school’s 110th commencement earlier this year, urging graduates to “Aim high and keep learning, be skeptical of accepted certainty and stay fast in the belief that facts matter.”

c) Paul Berg. Berg, PhD, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980, continues to be active in the Stanford Medicine community, where he was instrumental in designing a new curriculum meant to create opportunities and flexibility for students’ long-term research and personal growth.

How did you do?

  • 8-11 correct answers: Prepare your evening gown or tuxedo with tails — you may just be invited to Stockholm!
  • 4-7 correct answers: Not bad, but it wouldn't hurt to spend a bit more time hitting the books.
  • 1-3 correct answers: Thanks for giving it a shot! Hopefully you picked up at least one fun Nobel tidbit.

Photo of Michael Levitt receiving the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry by Alexander Mahmoud/Nobel Media

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