TNQ Distinguished Lectures: Indian scientists must try to work on interesting subjects, says Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan

Potential to do crucial work in the country: Nobel laureate

Updated - November 28, 2021 11:47 am IST

Published - January 24, 2020 11:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Science push: ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan delivering the lecture at the AIIMS Auditorium in New Delhi on Friday.R.V. Moorthy

Science push: ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan delivering the lecture at the AIIMS Auditorium in New Delhi on Friday.R.V. Moorthy

Young scientists in India should work on doing “important and interesting” science and it was possible to be based in India and do ground-breaking work without “lowering the level” of the science attempted, Nobel Laureate and President of the Royal Society Venkatraman ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan, said at a lecture here.

His talk, ‘My Adventures in the Ribosome’ was delivered as part of the 10th edition of the TNQ Distinguished Lectures in the Life Sciences 2020. “There are a wealth of problems considering the biodiversity of India that need investigation,” he said.

His address focused on his contribution to the role of deciphering the structure of the ribosome. This is the biological machinery necessary to transform the genetic code, which is stored as DNA, into proteins that go on to make up our bodies and sustain its processes.

Dr. Ramakrishnan referenced heavily from his memoir, The Gene Machine , to narrate personal anecdotes: about switching from physics to biology as a graduate student because he intuited that he'd likely be able to make a significant contribution, as well as reflect on the practice of science saying, “Scientists are neither Spocks nor saints”. He added that the “Nobel is mistaken for greatness.”


The Nobel laureate dwelt on the rivalry among scientists around the world to decipher the structure of the ribosome. Groups in Israel and at Yale University, at various points, appeared to have a lead on his group. So he took the “risky” step of moving to a new country — the United Kingdom — and taking a 40% pay cut. However, the decision paid off as he was able to solve the structure of the ribosome and was instrumental in bringing to a wider audience the significance, Dr Ramakrishnan said.

Dr. Ramakrishnan took questions from the audience on the practice of science, origins of the ribosome and its role in the origin of life, his ways of coping with failure, at the talk at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The audience consisted of scientists, students, research scholars, K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor (who also introduced Dr. Ramakrishnan) and Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology and Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS.

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