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He brought about a revolution in the world of research in molecular biology and thanks to his discovery of the green fluorescent protein he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2008. The tale the green spark can tell us opens up countless new scenarios for scientists and countless applications, first of all in disease diagnostics. A truly radiant and positive man, a researcher with stunning authoritativeness, a leader that loves music and sports.


Martin Chalfie

The Speculation

“I regard my own path as unexpected. However, I am aware of the extent to which opportunties, fortune, help from others and my own stubbornness helped me.”


Martin Chalfie was born in Chicago in 1947. His childhood was a carefree one filled with many books. Then, in 1965, he moved to Harvard. He believed he would become a mathematician, but he soon understood he preferred other scientific disciplines and therefore moved to biochemistry. But his ideas about his future were not yet clear at the time, and so he added law, drama and Russian literature to his curriculum.

He graduated in 1969 and soon afterwards had several temporary jobs including being a teacher and salesman for his family's tailor's shop. In 1971 he started working for a Yale research laboratory. Encouraged by his earliest professional successes and his first scientific publication he returned to Harvard where he was awarded a Research Doctorate in 1977.

He started his early post-doctorate activities at the Cambridge Molecular Biology laboratory and in 1982 he went to the Columbia University to work in the biological sciences department. In these days he also worked with his colleague Tulle Hazelrigg, who later on became his wife. Together, they focused on studying the development and operation of nerve cells.

In 1988, following a Paul Brehm seminar, Martin Chalfie started researching bioluminescent organisms. In just a few years his research led him to carry out crucial experiments, publishing more than two hundred works on the same issue. In 2004 he was appointed member of the National Academy of Sciences and carried on with his research, applying a multi-faceted approach to the study of the development of molecular and genetic information. In 2008, together with Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y.Tsien, Martin Chalfie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for having discovered the GFP, the Green Fluorescent Protein.

He used the green fluorescent protein as a gene expression marker. Martin Chalfie intuited that, unlike many other forms of bioluminescence, the GFP does not need any additional enzyme to create light and this makes it possible for scientists to observe movement of the single proteins inside a cell.



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