Q: Where were you when you got the news you had won the Nobel prize?
A: I was in deep sleep in a Dallas hotel room having arrived at midnight to give a lecture the next day. The phone rang at 4am. I was worried that it was some emergency at home. Then I saw that the telephone number was from Europe and I thought maybe I had better answer it.
Q: What turned you on to biotechnology?
A: I studied mechanical engineering at Princeton and worked on solar energy after graduation. But the industry’s prospects changed for the worse in the early 1980s and I decided to do my PhD in chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. I had initially intended to work on biofuels but I stumbled on this new field of biotechnology.
Q: Your Nobel prize was awarded for the “directed evolution of enzymes”. What’s that?
A: It is basically breeding, similar to mating cats or dogs to bring out desired traits, but at the level of molecules. The aim is to create new and better biological material in the form of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. And this allows us to use greener biological manufacturing processes to make the fuels, chemicals and materials we use in our daily lives.
Q: Some people find it remarkable that there are two female winners this year of Nobel prizes because it is usually all men.
A: It is remarkable – and wonderful. But also not surprising because there are women doing fabulous physics and chemistry. I predict this is the beginning of a steady stream.
From the Guardian, “Frances Arnold:’To Expect a Nobel Prize is rather silly”, Oct 21, 2018