Molecular biologist, neuroscientist, and Nobel Prize laureate Ardem Patapoutian presented his Nobel Prize to the History Museum of Armenia on June 14. In 2021, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with David Julius for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch. Ardem Patapoutian's prize will be a part of the museum's permanent exhibitions. After the handover ceremony, he addressed the participant's questions.
Science and fame
Science is a slow process. I have been a professor for 22 years. I always say that scientists don't do the work to get prizes or recognition. We do it because we are curious, and we're interested in improving science, both for science's sake and for the benefit of humanity, hopefully translating our basic research into clinical development someday.
We've been working on these scientific questions for 23 years since I started my laboratory. There was a eureka moment 12 years ago when we found these mechanics sensors. But it took years and years to prove that it's essential. So it does take a very long time. I also wanted to point out that although we do basic biology research, some of this gets translated to help people and create new medicines.
I love what I do. I come to work every day to discover how life works, how our bodies work, and what happens when things go wrong. But this recognition also has been a wonderful thing on a personal and national level. My biggest hope is that this will inspire the next generation of young scientists, but also for people to get into science and technology, which is, again, not just theoretical. Still, hopefully, it will also help the country in an economy and every other aspect.
I'm used to working in a laboratory and talking to graduate students and postdocs; this fame is new for me. This situation changes things, and I have opportunities I might not have had before. So I'm exploring this to see what I want to do. But since I love what I do, I don't want to change too much. Of course, this recognition for me, my laboratory, and my mentors gives me great joy.
Although the prize is grand, I always emphasize that the work is more important. So I hope that the new generation will find the field that they're happy to win, they love it, but at the same time, it benefits the community and their society. And if you have joy and do that, this recognition is this extra icing on the cake.
Science and Armenia’s prospects
I met many brilliant, curious, creative kids at the TUMO Center yesterday. They are ready to create great things. I think the government should create an infrastructure for them to succeed. You need to make sure you pay enough money to scientists so they can aspire without too much personal sacrifice. Cooperation between public and private institutions is necessary, so they can feel there are great opportunities after getting their degrees. Most of that is going on; I have heard that spending on science and scientists has increased over the last few years, which is very well, and I hope that trend can continue.
I'm here to discover the science that goes on here and see how I can be involved and help if needed. Coming to Armenia and working here is possible, but I haven't discussed any details.
Science in the United States is a vast enterprise. There are billions of dollars of investment from the government. And, of course, Armenia's situation cannot afford that. We realize that, but at the same time, it doesn't mean that there is no hope or shouldn't be done just the opposite.
The computer technology side has been blossoming in Armenia; there are lots of new companies and more education in the field of engineering. We can hope that by investing strategically in the life sciences, certain aspects of it can blossom and become both scientifically and economically fundamental aspects of society.
Photos: Emin Aristakesyan