Born in Jerusalem, biochemist Ada E. Yonath graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1964, and earned a Ph.D. in X-Ray crystallography at the Weizmann Institute of Science. She established what was for nearly a decade the only protein crystallography laboratory in Israel. Then, from 1979 to 1984, she was a group leader with Heinz-Günter Wittmann at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. During this time, she was visiting professor at the University of Chicago. She headed a Max-Planck Institute Research Unit in Hamburg from 1986, in parallel to her research activities at the Weizmann Institute.
Yonath focused on the mechanisms underlying protein biosynthesis. She was the first scientist to observe and unravel the internal architecture of a large ribosomal subunit. Following this discovery, Thomas Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan joined her in her experiments. They received a shared Nobel Prize in 2009 for their studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. Yonath is the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences. The three Laureates have generated 3D models that show how different antibiotics bind to the ribosome. These models are now used by scientists in order to develop new antibiotics.
Yonath has earned a high number of awards and honours, including the following: the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, and the Israel Prize, for chemistry. Today, she is the director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Centre for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science.