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Nobel Prize Winners in Lindau

Yiğit Altay augments Nature

If you had to explain your research topic to your grandmother or your little sister, how would you do it?
My research is based on peptide chemistry. I take a few amino acids and try to put them together to form nanostructures like tubes or spheres. My hope is to catalyze a reaction, like making an amide bond or hydrolysis reaction.

What is this used for?
It has implications for the origin of life. The amino acids used can be found in the early prebiotic atmosphere, on meteorites, in outer space. If deformed small peptides can catalyze a reaction, if they can self-replicate, then life could have started in this way. We know that DNA and RNA are important molecules – these are the basis of the life as we know it. But they are too complex. We need to have something more basic, more simplistic. That’s our main idea.

So you are adding molecules to nature’s palette – how many have you added yet?
I don’t know exactly, but probably more than 20. Some of them are useless, or maybe we haven’t discovered their use yet.

In your research motivation you state that science is a link between the individual and the cosmos – so which is the scientific link between you as an individual and the cosmos?
I think when I started my masters degree, I agreed with my adviser that writing an article and having good results is not all that is important. But I want to do something that is worth working on. I want to learn more than in any other possible project. My research is completely linked to cosmology, as we are trying to explain how life started. So I think it is really exiting.

You also say, science is “an ultimate game for adults” – what happens if you lose the game?
These was not my words, but Dan Shechtman’s words. Actually nobody loses the game of science. Even if the results fail, we learn something.

You say that you like dealing with questions that concern life. Which is the one that concerns life most?
I think the question is: What is life? I am writing my thesis at the moment, and one chapter is all about this question. Even if the question looks so simple, there is no single answer. And actually nobody’s answer can satisfy my expectations or explain the meaning of it. If we can answer that question, we can contribute to find life’s origins.

What is the one thing you would like to find out before the end of your scientific career?
If I could make something that works for all people and broadens their horizon, that would make me really happy. It is very important that they remember my name, but if they are talking about what I have found, a thousand years later, it would still be very satisfactory for me.

What is science in your mother tongue?

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"Science" in Turkish


How would you draw the place where you have the best ideas?

03.07.2013 DW Nobelpreisträgertreffen 2013, Projekt Zukunft, Lindau, 63rd Nobel Laureate Meeting Ort Yi It Altay

Yigit Altay gets the best ideas when lying on his bed in his room and looking through the window at the stars in the sky.

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