Jacques Dubochet

One of the signs of an intelligent mind is said to be a sense of humour. Jacques Dubochet from the canton of Vaud, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in October, is without doubt a witty personality, and summed up his achievement by remarking that all he had done was invent cold water. Cold water? That’s right, this French-speaking Swiss scientist has created a method to make it possible to flash freeze liquid solutions containing cells. This procedure, which is carried out using liquid ethane, makes it possible for samples to be observed in their natural state.

A member of staff at the University of Geneva joked to the media that the Vaud-born scientist and his colleague Alasdair McDowall had succeeded in doing what people making sorbets at home try to achieve: avoiding creating ice crystals. This is because crystallisation kills the cells in the laboratory.

In an interview with Le Temps, Jacques Dubochet revealed that his invention could be used in particular to “study Tau proteins, which are linked with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s when they accumulate in the brain”. He added that he had a strong personal interest in the field as he is 75 years old!

The researcher’s online CV, which delighted the international media, includes some real gems. It says that he was “the first official dyslexic in the canton of Vaud”, which enabled him “to be poor at everything and to understand those experiencing difficulties”. “One day he offered to take me to the hotel with his suitcase, but when we got to the car park I saw that he only had a bicycle for transportation,” recalled a French researcher with amusement.

As a child, he was scared of the dark and this made him go to the library to try to understand where the sun was hiding. This fear may have stopped him from becoming a criminal, a path which this Vaud-based future Professor Calculus considered.

Stéphane Herzog

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