Sketches of Science

By Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Photographer Volker Steger asks Nobel Laureates to sketch their
prize-winning discoveries with crayons. The photo series 'Sketches of Science'
encompasses portraits of the laureates together with their respective drawings.
'Sketches of Science' is a cooperative project of the Lindau Nobel Laureate
Meetings and the Nobel Museum in Stockholm and is supported by the Klaus
Tschira Stiftung.

Peter Agre by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Peter Agre, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2003

You’re looking at a sketch of an aquaporin channel, the route by which water travels across our membranes. Some of our membrane epithelia are pretty impermeable. You can soak in a hot tub for literally hours, and while your toes may get a little squishy you don’t absorb a lot of water. But think of Pavlov’s dog. The dog hears the bell and within seconds its saliva is flowing. There must be a mechanism to allow water to cross membranes that fast when needed, and that mechanism turns out to be the aquaporin family of water channels.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008

This is a portrait of an invasion. The colourful centrepiece is HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which Francoise Barré-Sinoussi and her colleague Luc Montagnier first identified in the mid-1980s, just two years after the first cases of AIDS had come to light. But a virus needs a host to survive and flourish, and this virus particle is here depicted in the process of attaching itself to a small green receptor on a white blood cell. This is the start of the process by which the virus will integrate its own genetic material into the genome of the infected cell, with all the terrible consequences that humankind has been made so tragically aware of over the last three decades or so.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009

“It was a speed drawing exercise as I recall,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, and her rapidly sketched solution is a cyclical diagram. As far back as the 1930s, people had noticed that the tips of chromosomes seemed to serve a protective function, but what these telomeres, or end parts were, nobody knew. So the question facing Blackburn was how could you get at the ends of chromosomes, these hugely long threads of DNA depicted by the tangled blue mass at the top left of the picture. Given that the vast majority of chromosomal DNA is not at the ends, how on earth could you deal with the problem: “Aarrgghh!”

Martin Chalfie by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Martin Chalfie, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2008

Martin Chalfie heard about Osamu Shimomura’s discovery of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in a talk in April 1989, and realised that GFP’s properties could make it an ideal cellular beacon for the transparent model organisms he studied. So the right-hand side of the picture describes the work done in Chalfie’s laboratory where DNA was isolated encoding the protein GFP. Chalfie first put this DNA into bacteria, and top right you see colonies of bacteria growing on a plate. Some of the colonies are now making GFP, so shining blue light on them makes them glow brightly green.

Steven Chu by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Steven Chu, Nobel Prize in Physics 1997

You’re witnessing the manipulation of matter by light. Focus on that atom trapped in the centre of the drawing, where these four laser beams come together (actually there were six laser beams in the experiment, but two are directed along the z axis, out of the plane of the paper). It has encountered what Steven Chu has called ‘optical molasses’, a glue made of light that has slowed it down from travelling at, say, twice the speed of sound to meandering around at about 10 centimetres a second. This is an example of optical cooling of atoms, the ‘cooling’ referring to the reduction in the kinetic energy of the atoms caught in the trap.

Aaron Ciechanover by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2004

"Practically everything is made of proteins, and everyday we are losing 4-8% of them, which means that within a month or a month-and-a-half, every single molecule of protein that had been in your body has gone. You are a completely new person, but nevertheless you are the same.” The system for that Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize, was this turning-over system. The portrait with the ‘picture’ and the written statement reflect the same idea. “I am standing with a glass of water,” says Ciechanover, “pouring the water out – these are the destroyed proteins – but at the same time I refill the glass. Maybe it’s a complicated idea, but I had to present it in a very simple, metaphoric way, which is the glass and the water."

Paul J. Crutzen by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Paul J. Crutzen, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1995

That distance, 30km, written in the bubble at the top of Paul Crutzen’s sketch, captures the essential and surprising discovery he made at the beginning of the 1970s. Crutzen demonstrated for the first time that microbiological transformations occurring in the soil were directly affecting the thickness of the ozone layer, up in the stratosphere, 30km above the earth.

Robert F. Curl Jr. by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Robert F. Curl Jr., Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1996

Most of the laureates in the Sketches of Science exhibition followed Volker Steger’s instruction to draw their discovery, but here Robert Curl has gone a step further; he has drawn (and written) the story of the discovery. Looking through his sketch, it’s immediately obvious how much the names of Curl’s co-Laureates Rick Smalley and Harry Kroto figure. The viewer gets a flavour of the thrilling exchanges of ideas that went on between them during the brief period of just eleven days, in 1985, when the discovery took place.

Richard R. Ernst by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Richard R. Ernst, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1991

Richard Ernst was awarded his Nobel Prize for his contributions to the development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which is nowadays used to probe the structure of all manner of things, from atoms in laboratories to people in hospitals. What he has sketched here are the basic principles underlying a method he invented called two-dimensional, Fourier Transform NMR, or “2DFT NMR” for short.

Sir Martin J. Evans by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Sir Martin J. Evans, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2007

This isn’t just any mouse. This is a chimeric mouse, made by putting embryonic stem cells into a mouse embryo. And thus this mouse represents the essential step in Martin Evans’ contribution to the work that led him and his collaborators, Oliver Smithies and Mario Cappechi, to develop the genetically-altered mouse, now an essential component of the experimental toolkit of laboratories the world over for investigating the role of individual genes or gene mutations.

Edmond H. Fischer by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Edmond H. Fischer, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1992

You’re looking at one sort of regulatory system, a set of traffic lights. This is an analogy for another regulatory system, a way of controlling protein function in the body, the discovery of which led to the award of the Nobel Prize to Edmond Fischer and his colleague Edwin Krebs. But whereas traffic lights are, or at least should be, an all or nothing type reaction (either everybody stops or everybody goes through), protein function is regulated with exquisite sophistication.

Jerome I. Friedman by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Jerome I. Friedman, Nobel Prize in Physics 1990

“I enjoy art very much and as a young person thought I would become a painter,” says Jerome Freidman, reflecting on his simple but striking depiction of three quarks within a proton. “That was my ambition when I was in high school,” he continues. “Then, as a result of reading a book that was written by Einstein about relativity I got so engrossed in the questions of the physical world that I decided to go to university and I ended up studying physics. So that’s what happened to my art career!”

Roy J. Glauber by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Roy J. Glauber, Nobel Prize in Physics 2005

“I wish we had been given a bit of warning,” says Roy Glauber, referring to his sketch, “because what I did was simply put down the equations that I am to some degree identified with. But others must have done a cleverer job of it.” The equations that Glauber wrote down stem from the world of quantum optics, in which the principles of quantum mechanics are applied to the study of light. They describe an innovation that Glauber introduced concerning the property of ‘coherence’, as seen, for instance, in the ability of a light wave to produce interference patterns.

David J. Gross by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

David J. Gross, Nobel Prize in Physics 2004

Under normal conditions, quarks, the fundamental building blocks of protons and neutrons, are never found out on their own. David Gross’s picture explains why. At the bottom right, the triangular structure illustrates a proton (let’s say the nucleus of a hydrogen atom), made up of three quarks. These quarks each possess a fractional charge (not the same as the electric charges that we associate with electrons or ions), and these charges are known as ‘colours’. Each quark is seen to have a different charge (colour), and it is these colours that give rise to the force field that holds them together; the so-called strong force.

Robert H. Grubbs by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Robert H. Grubbs, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2005

In this diagram, Bob Grubbs has tried to capture some of the power and breadth of the metathesis reaction, to which he and his co-Laureates Yves Chauvin and Richard Schrock have devoted much of their lives. The reaction, which works particularly well on carbon-carbon double bonds (the parallel red lines seen throughout the sketch), provides a whole new way of making connections between atoms and breaking more complex molecules up into simpler pieces. “One of my colleagues described it once as like building a new saw that allows you to put things together in a slightly different way,” says Grubbs.

Theodor W. Hänsch by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Theodor W. Hänsch, Nobel Prize in Physics 2005

This sketch depicts the most accurate measuring device that humankind has so far invented. Called the ‘optical frequency comb’, it is used as an ‘optical ruler’ to measure frequency in the same way we use solid rulers to measure distance. In fact, the frequency comb even looks a bit like a ruler. The method, which was developed by Theodor Hänsch and John Hall, with whom he shared the Nobel Prize, is now being used in applications ranging from the more accurate recording of time to the search for earth-like planets outside the solar system.

Stefan W. Hell by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Stefan W. Hell, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014

The diffraction barrier is a black line dividing Stefan Hell’s sketch: His Nobel discovery broke through it, revealing a new world of detail in light microscopy. To do this on paper took a lot of wax crayons...

Sir A. Timothy (Tim) Hunt by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Sir A. Timothy Hunt, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001

“Aha, the cell cycle!”, exclaims Tim Hunt. “What is the cell cycle? Well I like a sort of simple definition, which is that the cell cycle is a series of events, or you might call them processes, which cells in our bodies have to go through in order to reproduce themselves.” The cell cycle is conventionally divided into four phases, of which the important ones have been placed by Hunt at the top and bottom. Mitosis, at the top, is the process when the cell actually divides into two and S-phase (which stands for ‘DNA Synthesis phase’), at the bottom, is when the chromosomes are replicated. And in between those two important events are G1 and G2, standing simply for ‘Gap 1’ and ‘Gap 2’.

Harald Kroto by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Harald Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1996

“All children draw,” says Harry Kroto, “and unfortunately for a lot of children that ability somehow stops and they don’t draw, they don’t go on drawing. For me, I’ve got involved with graphic design, which is somewhere sort of halfway between art and science.”

The football pictured here depicts buckminsterfullerene, or the ‘buckyball’ (C60), the molecule Kroto discovered together with Robert Curl and Rick Smaller during just a few days of experimentation back in 1985.

Robert B. Laughlin by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Robert B. Laughlin, Nobel Prize in Physics 1998

“What we’re talking about here is the genesis of physical law,” says Bob Laughlin, “This experiment is the vanguard of things to come in the next century.” Focus, for a moment, on the equation in the dashed box on the left hand side of Laughlin’s sketch. That’s the ‘Laughlin wavefunction’, which in 14 symbols provided a theoretical explanation of an experimental observation made by Horst Störmer and Daniel Tsui, with whom Laughlin shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. His analysis demonstrated that electrons in a strong magnetic field were condensing to form a new kind of quantum fluid. “But what’s a quantum fluid?” asks Laughlin.

Anthony J. Leggett by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Anthony J. Leggett, Nobel Prize in Physics 2003

Anthony Leggett’s sketch concerns the behaviour of an isotope of helium at very low temperatures. Close to absolute zero, helium-3 (3He) displays the property of superfluidity, being able to creep up the walls of the vessel that holds it, as if it had no viscosity whatsoever. The drawing depicts both the experimental observation and the theoretical explanation that allowed Leggett to account for this phenomenon.

Craig C. Mello by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Craig C. Mello, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2006

Scientists often tell you that it’s always the next discovery that’s most exciting. Craig Mello certainly thinks so, relegating his Nobel Prize-awarded discovery of the phenomenon of RNA interference (RNAi) to a tiny red dot in the centre of the page, and then concentrating entirely on sketching his current area of interest: RNA information!

Ei-ichi Negishi by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Ei-ichi Negishi, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2010

In the case of Ei-ichi Negishi’s sketch, the reaction used to join R1 to R2 is … the Negishi reaction! In fact all three of the 2010 Chemistry Laureates (Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki) had the reactions they developed named after them. The Heck, Negishi and Suzuki reactions all depend on using palladium, a silvery transition metal, as a catalyst to join organic molecules together. As illustrated in the diagram, the palladium catalyst grabs the two species R1 and R2, hooks them together, and then, as all catalysts do, goes back and does the same thing again with a fresh pair of R1–X and R2–M.

Erwin Neher by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Erwin Neher, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1991

As you focus your eyes on this text to read these words, the muscle contractions that direct your gaze and the nerve impulses that carry the signals from your eyes to your brain are all dependent on the flow of electricity. That flow is caused by the movement of charged ions into and out of cells and for this to happen, the cell walls have to become permeable. The question of precisely how such permeability changes occur was the problem that Erwin Neher and his colleague Bert Sakmann sought to tackle in the mid 1970s.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1995

Fly embryos develop segments as they grow, and by the time they are maggots, seen here crawling off in all directions, they normally have eleven segments. Fly embryos that develop fewer segments are unable to crawl out of the egg, and such underdeveloped embryos are seen in the eggs at the centre of the picture. Nüsslein-Volhard and her collaborator Eric Wieschaus set out to discover what genes control the segmental patterning seen during fly development. To do this, they bred from hundreds of thousands of flies subjected to random mutagenesis, collected the embryos on dishes coated with agar jelly made from apple juice (as seen at the bottom right of the picture), and looked for alterations in the resulting embryos.

Martin L. Perl by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Martin L. Perl, Nobel Prize in Physics 1995

Marty Perl’s drawing encompasses a lot: a history of the discovery of leptons, a description of his key experiment, and a challenge for the future. When Perl came upon the research scene in the early 1960s, there were two so-called ‘leptons’ known, the electron and the muon. As he shows top left, the electron had been the first elementary particle to be discovered, by J.J. Thomson back in around 1900. Then a second, related but much more massive particle, the muon, had been discovered in cosmic rays in the late 1930s. It occurred to Perl that it was bizarre to have a pair of particles with such unequal masses, and that the electron and the muon must in fact represent the first two members of a series of particles of increasing mass. So he decided to go looking for a still heavier lepton.

Carlo Rubbia by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Carlo Rubbia, Nobel Prize in Physics 1984

Carlo Rubbia might not be the only Nobel Laureate to be holding a picture of himself in the Sketches of Science exhibition, nor the only laureate not to make a drawing, but he is the only one to be holding a sketch made by someone else. This cartoon, of Rubbia dressed for the kitchen and frying-up particles, hangs on the wall of his office at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN.

Richard Royce Schrock by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Richard R. Schrock, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2005

Just like people, carbon atoms find that dancing together can lead to the formation of new and original couplings. Here, Richard Schrock, one of the developers of the new metathesis method for building organic molecules, has likened its central mechanism to a square dance. So grab a partner and follow along.

Dan Shechtman by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Dan Shechtman, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011

This blue tie, Shechtman says, was produced by his university and shows the structure of quasicrystals which he discovered. And the tie was made before his awarding of the Nobel Prize! His drawing used the same blue as his tie, so quasicrystals seem to be blue...

Oliver Smithies by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Oliver Smithies, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2007

Oliver Smithies’ sketch in red and blue schematically illustrates the modification of a gene, a key step on the road to developing the genetically-altered mouse, for which he, Mario Cappechi and Martin Evans were awarded the Nobel Prize. Discovering how to introduce specific changes into segments of DNA and then incorporate that altered DNA into the germline of mice resulted in the ability to generate the ‘custom-built’ mice that are now the workhorses of so much of today’s biomedical research.

George F. Smoot by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

George F. Smoot, Nobel Prize in Physics 2006

“It’s supposed to be spherical, you know,” says George Smoot, laughing. “It is supposed to represent a spherical shell, and what it’s meant to do is to show what we see when we look out at the universe, that is where the light comes from.” We, on earth, are sitting at the centre of Smoot’s map, in the spiral arm of that little green galaxy labeled as the “here + now”. The map shows light streaming in from all directions and from further and further back in time, right back to the beginnings of the universe, 13.7 billion years ago.

Samuel C. C. Ting by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Samuel C. C. Ting, Nobel Prize in Physics 1976

Theory guides, experiment decides, so they say, and Samuel Ting’s sketch illustrates a particular experiment which led particle physicists to decide that the theory they had relied on up to that point was wrong, or at least insufficient. In November 1974 he discovered a new elementary particle, which he called ‘J’, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Across the country, in Stanford, California, Burton Richter was discovering the same particle at the same time, and the two men shared the Nobel Prize shortly afterwards. Their experimental discoveries had been unpredicted by the existing theories, which therefore had to be substantially rethought.

Martinus J. G. Veltman by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Martinus J. G. Veltman, Nobel Prize in Physics 1999

“The drawing is as I see science,” says Veltman: “climbing a mountain ridge and then the great moment when you can look and see what is behind.” And what lies behind, as so many laureates will say when describing the addictive joy of scientific research, are usually more questions! Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the development of the Standard Model, where theoretical advances so frequently lead to the need for new experiments, and then experimental discoveries require the construction of new theories to support them. This constant interplay between the theorists and the experimentalists has been one of the hallmarks of particle physics.

Frank Wilczek by Volker StegerLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize in Physics 2004

The short equation at the top of Frank Wilczek’s extensive drawing is a complete description of the strong nuclear interaction, one of the four fundamental forces of nature. The other three forces are the weak nuclear interaction (which is important for the decay of radioactive elements, for instance), electromagnetism (acting between charged particles), and gravitation. All of these forces, with the exception of gravitation, have been combined together in the Standard Model of particle physics, which underpins physicists’ understanding of fundamental particles and their interactions. The equation quoted by Wilczek and the coloured, triangular sketch below it that summarizes the same thing in diagrammatic form, encapsulate a theory called quantum chromodynamics, which he and his colleagues David Gross and David Politzer developed during the early to mid 1970s.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps