Spinach on the ceiling
An autobiography by Martin Karplus, nobel laureate in chemistry (with over 200 illustrations)
Credit: World Scientific
Escaping war and living as a refugee in a foreign land would destroy most childhoods. But to Nobel Laureate Martin Karplus, it was the seed of a life-long drive. “Being a refugee and not quite belonging played a pivotal role in my view of the world and approach to science,” said Karplus.
Karplus, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013, is more than a scientist—he is also a chef who has cooked in many Michelin 3-star restaurants, including Joel Robuchon in Paris and El Bulli in Spain, as well as a photographer with multiple solo exhibitions.
In his autobiography, Spinach on the Ceiling: The Multifaceted Life of a Theoretical Chemist, Karplus describes how his optimistic outlook and belief in himself helped him overcome setbacks in his research and to continue on a path that other scientists considered futile, to eventually develop a methodology that is now at the heart of chemistry and structural biology. At 90 years old, Karplus is still active in research at Harvard University where he is emeritus professor. He is currently working on developing a permanent vaccine for influenza, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
With over 200 illustrations, this autobiography captures pivotal moments in Karplus’s life—his escape to Switzerland in 1938 shortly after Hitler’s entrance into Austria; the gift from his parents of a microscope which opened his eyes to the wonders of science; his education in New England and California; and his eventual scientific career at Oxford, Illinois, Columbia, Strasbourg, and Harvard.
Karplus studied chemistry and physics as an undergraduate at Harvard and earned his PhD at Caltech. He was the last graduate student of Linus Pauling, who was awarded Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Peace. In this book, Karplus shares his memories of Pauling, including how Pauling unwittingly taught him the importance of intuition in science.
In his over 70-year career, which began with a paper on birds entitled “Massachusetts Alcids”, Karplus has published more than 800 papers. He has mentored more than 250 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting faculty—all members of a group now referred to as “The Karplusians”. He hopes that the some of the vignettes shared in this book will help young readers achieve their own success.
Spinach on the Ceiling: The Multifaceted Life of a Theoretical Chemist, published by World Scientific Publishing, retails for US$38 / £25 (paperback) and US$88 / £75 (hardcover). To order or learn more about the book, visit https:/
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Sue Fan Law