Memo to Every Country: Keep Your Bright People!
By Shlomo Maital
Nobel Winners Warshel, Levitt and Karplus
This year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry was won by three scholars, two of whom were Michael Levitt, Stanford Univ., and Ariel Warshel, U. of Southern California. The latter two are Israelis; Levitt studied and did research at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, and Warshel studied at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Both did their Nobel research abroad. Levitt told the press that he would have preferred to remain at Weizmann, but it was “not his decision”. The three winners did research that used software algorithms to simulate and predict chemical reactions, now widely used in drug development. Like many Nobel breakthroughs, their work combined fields not often combined: in this case, classical physics and quantum physics. One of the winners was French: Martin Karplus, of Univ. of Strasbourg.
Both Levitt and Warshel studied in Israel; Ariel studied at my university and won awards. Both say they would have preferred to make their careers in their home countries, but could not get academic positions.
I believe that one of the key ways we should judge our political leaders, is whether they do everything possible to keep our bright young people at home, and to attract those who have left to come home. This is our future; to do less is to damage our future. I don’t see how Israel’s government is doing anything serious to stem the massive brain drain, or attract home those who left in earlier years. It is very small comfort to see an expat Israeli win a Nobel Prize, for Stanford or Southern Cal. We see an exodus of brainpower from Greece, and from Spain, and other nations in fiscal trouble. The cost of this is simply immense.