Generating understanding more important than generating information: Nobel laureate Ramakrishnan

Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan traced his journey from a little-known girls' school in Baroda to his small molecular laboratory in Cambridge, UK to an enthusiastic audience at a packed JN Tata Auditorium at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, last evening.

The celebrated structural biologist spoke on subjects ranging from complex ribosome structures that he helped demystify to his pragmatic approach to science.

He recalled how eminent scientists he met in Cambridge had influenced his thought processes. He said none of them was in the business of just generating information or publishing papers, rather they were in the business of generating an understanding.

He saw them at close quarters and observed that instead of wasting time duplicating material or doing 'pedestrian work,' they tackled real problems. He said that science could not be quantified by the number of papers published and if that were the case one might as well feed data into the computer and leave it to do the rest.

Venkatraman's zeal to engage in solving real problems and the fact that he could not find one that needed solving in physics, finally made him switch to molecular biology, from physics, the field he had initially trained in.

The audience was delighted to share the pictures of his school and college days in Baroda and hear him narrate accounts of his experiences with free-thinking teachers who tore up syllabi and changed his entire approach to learning. One such teacher and researcher Peter Moore got him started on ribosomes.