Solving a 140-year-old riddle
Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz and Prof. Meir Lahav

Profs. Leslie Leiserowitz and Meir Lahav will be awarded this year's Wolf Prize in Chemistry

The Wolf Prize in Chemistry, 2021, will be awarded to two Weizmann Institute of Science researchers, Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz and Prof. Meir Lahav, both of the Molecular Chemistry and Materials Science Department. It is awarded for their collaborative establishment of the ”fundamental reciprocal influences of three-dimensional molecular structure upon structures of organic crystals.” In a series of dramatic experimental findings, the two proved, for the first time, that one can determine the spatial symmetry of a molecule, in particular the molecules of life, by understanding the morphology of the crystal in which the molecules are assembled and vice versa. These findings became the foundation of the field of stereochemistry of organic crystals, as well as leading to the solving of a 140-year-old riddle. That riddle first arose from the work of Louis Pasteur, who showed how crystals of the same material can mirror one another, but did not understand how this detail ultimately relates to the crystal’s structure.

The recipients of the Wolf Prizes for Science and Art, 2021, were announced on February 9, by the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s education minister and Chairman of the Wolf Foundation, Yoav Galant, and acting Chair of the Wolf Foundation, Prof. Dan Schechtman, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Wolf Prize recipient in 1999. Due to corona restrictions, for the first time since 1978, there will not be an awards ceremony in the Knesset, but it will be personally delivered to the recipients by members of the Wolf Foundation.

The Wolf Prize is an annual award given to outstanding scientists and artists from around the world, in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples. This prestigious award has been handed out for the past 43 years, to 354 leading scientists and artists (including the Institute’s Prof. Ada Yonath). This year, the $400,000 Prize will be divided between eight winners from five countries: the US, Italy, Austria, Uruguay and Israel.

The Wolf Prize announcement ceremony. Israel's President Reuven Rivlin

Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz was born in 1934 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Cape Town and continued on to study the physics of diffraction, in this case, the method used to unravel the properties of crystal structures. In 1959, Leiserowitz made Aliyah to Israel and joined the Weizmann Institute of Science. It was at the Institute that he met Meir Lahav, who would become his future partner in numerous research projects. Lahav was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1936 and came to Israel with the declaration of statehood, in 1948. He attended a school for workers’ children in Northern Israel. Lahav studied chemistry and physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, moving to the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1963 for his doctoral studies.

Among the many awards and honors they have received for their collaborative work, Leiserowitz and Lahav received Israel’s top honors, including an Israel Prize in chemistry and physics and an EMET Prize.

Education Minister Galant said of the two: “Prof. Leiserowitz and Prof. Lahav of the Weizmann Institute of Science have conferred great honor, this evening, on the State of Israel. Their success is the success of the whole State of Israel, and I am pleased that my colleagues on the committee selected them and realized the outstanding quality of their research, which led to the solution of a 140-year-old riddle.”


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