Two California professors and a scientist affiliated with Harvard university comprise the three Americans who won this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for laying the foundation for the computer models used to understand and predict chemical processes.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their research in the 1970s has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves.
The winners are: Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel. Karplus, a U.S. and Austrian citizen, is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. The academy said Levitt is a British, U.S., and Israeli citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
NBC Bay Area caught up with Levitt on Wednesday and lives on Stanford's campus. His home was buzzing with excitement, as news agencies across the globe were calling to hear his reaction. The phone rang at 2:11 a.m. He didn't answer at first.
"No one ever calls me," he said. "At first, I thought it was the wrong number. People text me and email me, but never call. Then they called again. It was clear it was from Sweden. They tell you who else wins the prize, which is nice, so that you don't feel bad that someone you thought should've gotten it didn't, or whatever."
He tried to go back to sleep but couldn't. The phone kept ringing and his adrenaline was on overdrive, as if he'd had a shot of "five double espressos."
This is Stanford's second Nobel win this week. On Monday, German-born researcher Thomas Suedhof, a professor at Stanford's School of Medicine won the Nobel Prize for Medine, for his discoveries on how proteins and other materials are transported within cells.
The academy applauded the scientists work in a statement.
"The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton's classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics," the academy said. "Previously, chemists had to choose to use either/or."
Warshel told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone that he was "extremely happy" to be awakened in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he had won the prize and looks forward to collecting the award in the Swedish capital in December. He also will receive one-third of the Nobel Prize total award of 8 million Swedish kronor, about $1.2 million.
"In short what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does," Warshel said.
Washel arrived at USC in 1976 and, that same year, teamed with Levitt to publish the first computerized model of an enzymatic reaction. Enymes control almost all chemistry within the human body, and the models the researchers created can be used to develop new drugs.
Earlier this week, three Americans won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries about how key substances are moved around within cells and the physics award went to British and Belgian scientists whose theories help explain how matter formed after the Big Bang.
NBC Bay Area's Marla Tellez and Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.