Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

Nobel prize winning American and British structural biologist

Venkatraman "Venki" Ramakrishnan (born 1952), an Indian-born American and British citizen, is a molecular biologist. He is the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath, "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome”. He currently works at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. He has been honoured with the second highest civilian award of India, the Padma Vibhushan in 2010. The United Kingdom honoured him with Knighthood in 2012.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan in 2009


  • This is an honour that reflects the quality of science supported by the Medical Research Council, in particular at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. In my case, credit should go to the numerous dedicated postdocs, students, associates and colleagues who made crucial contributions to the work.
  • In the current debate about immigration, it is worth noting that this award is yet another example of the numerous contributions that immigrants make to British society.
    • Quoted in "Knighthood for Venkatraman Ramakrishnan".
  • Indeed, many of the founding members of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology were immigrants themselves, and they helped to revolutionise modern biology."
    • Quoted in "Knighthood for Venkatraman Ramakrishnan".

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan interview: 'It takes courage to tackle very hard problems in science'

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan in press conference after receiving Nobel Prize along with Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath who shared it

"Venkatraman Ramakrishnan interview: 'It takes courage to tackle very hard problems in science'". The Guardian. 24 November 2013. Retrieved on 19 December 2013. 

  • I was quite insistent. We have quite a few pranksters in the lab and I thought this was one of them. I even congratulated the man, ironically, on his Swedish accent.
    • When he refused to believe the telephonic news about his Nobel Prize and accused his caller a poor hoaxer.
  • I knew the ribosome was going to be the focus of Nobel prizes. It stands at the crossroads of biology, between the gene and what comes out of the gene. But I had convinced myself I was not going to be a winner.
  • I then got a PhD in physics [from Ohio University] though it was hatt hatt and hatt not a very good one.
  • I remember reading a Scientific American article about the use of new physical techniques – including neutron scattering – as a method for unravelling the structure of the ribosome. I was fascinated. I knew ribosomes were a big fundamental problem in science and this was a method for chipping away at it.
  • It takes a certain amount of courage to tackle very hard problems in science, I now realise. You don't know what the timescale of your work will be: decades or only a few years. Or your approach may be fatally flawed and doomed to fail. Or you could get scooped just as you are finalising your work. It is very stressful.
  • If I had complained about the prize before I got mine, they may have thought I was anticipating sour grapes. But I complained on the grounds that too many important scientists get missed out for Nobels. Science today is a highly collaborative exercise and to convert it into a contest, as the Nobel does, is a bad way to look at science. On the other hand, I am grateful to the committee for my award. It put the study of ribosome – the cellular machine that turns the blueprint of life into life itself – on front pages round the world.
  • You would have to ask a physicist really but I think understanding fundamental problems in physics is very important because they are part of our culture. You just never know what is going to come from it. If you had told Isaac Newton about spaceships and satellites that arise from his laws of gravity, it would have been science fiction to him.
  • Find out what really fascinates you and follow that. Almost anything in nature, if you follow it, you will find a scientific problem. That is a better way to do it than following fads, because what is fashionable today may have been solved or fallen out of fashion once you have become a working scientist.
  • Scientists are trained to be rational and we are not trained to interact with people and develop social skills. Politics is about being able to convince people. Scientists could do with learning how to do that.
  • Scientists work by a combination of intuition and insight in trying to understand a question.
  • No. Geeks make huge advances in society. Newton was the ultimate geek. It should be a compliment.
    • When asked if he could be called a geek.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan


"Venkatraman Ramakrishnan". Outlook Magazine. 17 Jun 2013. Retrieved on 19 December 2013. 

  • People go into science out of curiosity, not to win awards. But scientists are human and have ambitions. Even the best scientists are often insecure and feel the need for recognition.
  • A life of science struck me as being both interesting and international in character.
  • Many in my family were ambivalent about it, but my mother encouraged me to put aside my fears. Vera (my wife) and I finally decided to leave Utah, where we were very happy, take a 40 per cent salary cut and move to the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge.
    • About his moving to Cambridge from Utah
  • This reconnection...has given me great satisfaction. I realise I have inadvertently become a source of inspiration and hope for people in India simply by the fact that I grew up there, went to my local university, but could go on to do well internationally. The Nobel, he says, is not just an affirmation of his past work; it’s an encouragement to keep working on interesting problems.

Appreciate science for what it is: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan


"Appreciate science for what it is: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan". The Hindu. 22 December 2009. Retrieved on 19 December 2013. 

  • Last year, the lecture was held in [an auditorium] with a capacity for just 300 people, and half the seats were empty. “What has changed? I am still the same person doing the same science. Why are people so impressed when some academy in Sweden gives an award?
  • Dr. Ramakrishnan addressing an audience of 3,000 at the university’s Centenary Auditorium.
  • That is the wrong question to ask…You can’t go into science thinking of a Nobel Prize. You can only go into science because you’re interested in it.
    • When asked how students could aim to emulate him.
  • The ribosome does amazing chemistry, but I’m not a chemist…I’ve just learnt enough to work on my problem.
  • It’s not about where you were born, or where you come from that makes you a good scientist. What you need are good teachers, co-students, facilities, [he said]. I honestly don’t think my roots have much to do with it. I’m sure this won’t make me popular, but this is what I think.

"Venki’ makes light of India link- Winner says not to treat science like cricket; league of misses grows". Telegraph India. 17 October 2009. Retrieved on 19 December 2013. 

  • My own lab has two Chinese, a Malaysian, a Canadian, an American, a German, it has had all sorts of people. And it’s actually fun because people from different countries come together, they have cultural exchanges, they learn more about each others’ countries and way of life. Science is a great international mixer, so the idea that it is a sort of cricket match where our team won — that simply is a wrong way of looking at scientific discovery.
    • Commenting on the adulation he received in India as an Indian.
  • It’s an absolutely good thing. I can think of one even better thing for young people, especially in India. It shows them you can study in India, get your basic education in India and you can (then) do whatever you want after that. That’s a very important message.
  • Indians tend to be a little insecure and they should stop being insecure — I have visited India many times and I can tell you questions I get after my talks are as perceptive as anywhere else in the world, including places like Harvard or MIT. It’s perfectly fine to take pride that someone from their region has used their background and succeeded. That gives them a positive message that they can do anything that they want.
  • Now many excellent scientists in India are doing really first rate work and it should not matter when the next Indian Nobel Prize is because they are doing very good work — that is what matters and the more you have this infrastructure, with good scientists within India, eventually someone will get a Nobel Prize for work done within India.
  • There are already people who are world class in India, for example C.N.R. Rao (who has worked mainly in solid-state and structural chemistry). He is an example of how you can do first rate international work within India. So I would say to Indians — you have it within you to do this (in India).

About Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

At a party after receiving the Nobel prize
  • Fundamental information about the workings of the cellular machinery at the atomic level and is already being exploited by pharmaceutical companies to make new, more effective antibiotics
  • It is fairly clear that American with recent foreign roots are overrepresented in any classification of Americans who have brought honour and recognition to the United States
    • Analysis done national Research Council on the contribution made by Venkataraman and other immigrants who are US citizens in getting Nobel Prize quoted in "Immigration".
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikibooks has more on the topic of