Tea with a Nobel prize winner

October 11, 2013

California

By Lucy Nicholson

One of the unexpected pleasures of being a news photographer is when complete strangers invite you into their lives.

In the early hours of the morning yesterday, I arrived at the home of Nobel chemistry prize winner Arieh Warshel, in a quiet residential neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was encouraged to see lights on in the upstairs window.

I rang the bell, and Warshel’s daughter Yael came to the door. She seemed surprised to see me. I explained that Reuters always likes to photograph Nobel winners at their homes after they win. She said her father hadn’t got dressed yet, but if I waited on the porch for five minutes, I could come in.

The Nobel prizes are awarded every fall. Every day for just over a week, Reuters photographers living near prestigious universities are on Nobel watch.

The winners receive a call from Sweden around 11.30am local time, congratulating them on being chosen for the $1.2 million prize.

In California, my colleagues Mike Blake in San Diego, Robert Galbraith in San Francisco and I went to bed anticipating a 2.30am call from Chris Helgren on the Reuters North America desk. Chris and editor Hyungwon Kang had researched a comprehensive list of possible winners, with contact numbers for their universities and some home addresses.

When the news came that U.S./Israeli citizen, USC Professor Arieh Warshel, had won for chemistry, Chris gave me an alarm call.

He then worked with Reuters television producer Kevin Regan and I to find Warshel’s home address and contact USC for file photos and any scheduled press conference. LA photographer Fred Prouser texted a USC publicist, and ended up letting her know that her university had a Nobel winner.

When I walked into Warshel’s home, he was sitting on one of the sofas in his office. Papers were sprawled on the table in front of him. He was talking on Skype on one of his work laptops. His daughter was posting on Facebook on another. News was coming from a large screen television. “It helps me concentrate when I work,” he told me.

Reuters cameraman Krystian Orlinski arrived to interview Warshel, and I passed him my cell phone so a Reuters reporter could also interview him.

I was with them for almost three hours before another photographer arrived, so I sat on the sofa to transmit my photos, and watched the family as they took in their exciting news. They were welcoming and warm, offering me tea and breakfast.

Warshel gasped with surprise when he saw his brother being interviewed on Israeli television.

Phones rang constantly, but Warshel’s daughter Yael kept looking at the numbers and cautioning him not to answer yet. They had been told Israeli President Shimon Peres was about to call Warshel to congratulate him.

First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called. Then when the call from Peres finally came, I took my favorite photos of the morning as Warshel’s wife and daughter sat on the arms of his chair and leaned in to him to hear what the President was saying.

It was a moment I photographed, but also just took in. I was moved by how proud his family was of him.

By Robert Galbraith

Reuters San Francisco-based staffer Robert Galbraith “won” two Nobel prize winner early morning phone calls this week.

Followed by a pair of Stanford video photographers, Michael Levitt walked down the narrow hallway of his campus apartment in his bare feet after finding a shirt to wear. It wasn’t much after 4 a.m. and he was on his way to a television interview after being awarded the Nobel chemistry prize.

The glare from the television lights highlighted the pride on the face of Levitt as he recounted the history of his research. Pointing to a laptop sitting on his dining table, Levitt said it contained three terabytes of storage and 16 gigs of memory.

In between a volley of live interviews from his small, crowded apartment, Levitt handled telephone calls from throughout the world, while the news of his achievement spread quickly through family, friends and colleagues as well.

Just two days earlier, the call came at 2:30 a.m. saying that two Nobel winners were located in the Bay Area, one at Stanford and the other at the University of California Berkeley.

Heading in the midnight darkness for Stanford’s Palo Alto Campus, the call came that the winner was in Spain and not at home.

So I turned the car around and headed for Berkeley, to the home of Randy Schekman, arriving shortly after 4am at the doorstep of the most recent Nobel prize. Having just returned from Germany the previous evening, Schekman was greeted by a pair of television cameras and two cell phones that refused to stop ringing. One interview followed another, and Schekman also announced that he had notified his children of the news, despite the hour.

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