The `G' Man

Fate, Fortitude and Frustration Were Part of the Path to a Nobel Prize for Alumnus of the Year Martin Rodbell.

by Tom Griffin

Nobel Laureate Martin Rodbell, '54. Photo (c)1996 Dan Sears.

It's the little things in life that can turn out to make big differences. Take the case of Martin Rodbell. His encounters with a friend's chemistry set, an algebra teacher's extra assignments, a father's resistance to French literature, a Ph.D. project at the UW gone wrong--and perhaps he never would have won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1994.

"I think of this more and more as I get older," says the 70-year-old Nobel laureate, who received his doctorate from the UW biochemistry department in 1954 and now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. "A person's experiences--the total life experiences--are really important to carrying something through to its logical conclusion."

The logical conclusion to Rodbell's experiences came in a phone call from Sweden at 6 a.m. in the morning on Oct. 10, 1994. The voice told him he was sharing the Nobel Prize with Alfred Gilman of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, for work they had both done on how cells communicate through G proteins

In recognition of his outstanding work in the world of science, the University of Washington and the UW Alumni Association have named Rodbell the 1996 Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus, the highest honor the UW can bestow upon any graduate.

Rodbell is currently scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Though these honors come in his name, Rodbell modestly credits those who have touched his life both inside and outside of the lab. "It is not an individual that really does something. It takes a community of effort to make things really work," he declares.

From Grocery Delivery Boy to the U-Dub
The UW Years--In the Lab and on the Stage
The Breakthrough that Led to the Prize
Later Years and the Day of the Award

Science Brief:
Turning It On: How G Proteins Communicate in the Cell

Table of Contents.