Reading her way to Nobel fame

October 7 marked the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to science for Israeli chemist Ada Yonath. She became the ninth Israeli Nobel laureate and the first woman to pick up the prize for chemistry in some 45 years.

A day before Israel celebrates its Children's Day o­n Monday, the 70-year-old crystallographer, renowned for her work o­n ribosomes, revealed to Xinhua some of the stories in her early years, which sketched out a girl eager for knowledge and tell the importance of reading for children.

One of the first influences o­n Yonath was a Hebrew book entitled World Discoverers. "It wasn't about those who sailed the seas such as Columbus," but an overview of the lives and works of people such as Marie Curie, recalled Yonath, a researcher of Israel's Weizmann Institute.

At that time, she was o­nly seven or eight, and had no intention of being a scientist. "I just didn't think about it. I didn't know you could do something you enjoyed and get paid for it," she said.

Life for young Ada was tough. She lived in a poor neighborhood of Jerusalem with her parents and younger sister. With her father being a rabbi, most of the books in her home were of a religious nature. There were no reading books for a young girl.

Yet Yonath was lucky that the bottom floor of her apartment building housed a preschool classroom run by her neighbor and she was able to pop in to read from time to time. She particularly enjoyed children's poetry.

Following the death of her father when she was 11, she buried herself in books, seeking solace in reading to help keep her mind off the loss and the other problems that beset her family.

Later o­n, Yonath and her family moved to Tel Aviv, where she managed to attend "the best high school," and received a grant to do so. With no TV at home and a radio "that hardly worked," books were an important part of her teenage years.

As her mother was "not too healthy," Yonath had to work her way through school to help the family survive. In summer vacations, she cleaned floors, worked in factories, made sandwiches in restaurants, served as a cashier, and do "whatever I could find."

In the day-to-day struggles, reading was also a weapon. During the days, Yonath and her mother and sister slept in o­ne room, and the other bedroom was rented to three female students. "I never thought about my condition, about how life wasn't treating me well," she said.

Meanwhile, with great joy, she became the school's librarian and was responsible for the reading room. "I was responsible for all the books, but I spent too much time working to read them," she said. Nevertheless, Yonath viewed her time in the library as "a fringe benefit" of her school days. "I really loved reading then," she added.

In retrospect, the Nobel laureate, now a grandmother, understands the importance of reading for today's children and more, the sense of fun it can build.

"It brings great pleasure if you do it as much as you can, as much as you like, and it's not o­nly pleasure, it also builds your personality," she said.