More than just a chemist

The Nation - Monday, December 20, 2004

Kurt Wuthrich, a Nobel laureate in chemistry who was in Bangkok last week, said some things that are likely to stick in the minds of many Thais for a long time. He will definitely be remembered as more than just a visiting Swiss scientist.

Wuthrich, who was a guest speaker at two Bridges events organised by the International Peace Foundation, had clearly been impressed by news reports on the wealth the family members of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have accumulated through their involvement with businesses listed on the stock exchange.

He told his audience in two consecutive speaking events that the prime minister should adopt a philanthropist outlook and start using his wealth to help support Thai scientists with research and development work. He said these scientists could not rely on funds from the state alone. Wuthrich may be an outsider, but he was able to touch upon an issue that as been the subject of much discussion at all levels of Thai society. The question of why there appears no end in sight for the quest for money and power in Thai politics has been raised by people throughout the country.

Wuthrich is Cecil H and Ida M Green professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and is a professor of biophysics at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. He received the 2002 Nobel Prize for chemistry after discovering a way to use nuclear magnetic resonance on proteins, thereby giving researchers a method to reveal the structure of proteins in solutions and get information about their function in cells. This method has revolutionised the development of new pharmaceuticals and may be used in the future in a variety of other applications.