Your New Nobel Laureate in Chemistry is a Burner

Go figure. The most recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is a Burner.

Helix thing.
Helix thing.

Congratulations to Michael Levitt, professor of structural biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work back in the 1970’s “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” According to the Stanford News, “Levitt’s work focuses on theoretical, computer-aided analysis of protein, DNA and RNA molecules responsible for life at its most fundamental level. Delineating the precise molecular structures of biological molecules is a necessary first step in understanding how they work and in designing drugs to alter their function.”

(Admittedly, we only understand this at a barely-survived-10th-grade-chemistry level at best … there was something about cool-looking spirally things.)

Michael and Rina and their sculpture "Unity" at Burning Man 2013. (Photo c/o "Soloride" on Reddit)
Michael and Rina and their sculpture “Unity” at Burning Man 2013. (Photo c/o “Soloride” on Reddit)

It’s notable that the Prize is related to work that the 66-year old Levitt did back when he was just 20 years of age. Most of us likely boast no greater achievement at 20 than moving out of our parents’ house. Or back in, as the case may be. So we’re thinking this guy really had his sh*t together.

But anyway, the reason you care about any of this (if you’re not a die-hard chemist or Nobeliphile, a word we made up) is that Levitt and his wife Rina are Burners. According to the article, “[h]e and his wife together designed a two-dimensional wire sculpture for the 2013 Burning Man festival in Nevada. Rina, the artist, designed the piece, called Unity. Levitt, of course, used a computer to calculate the exact shape and dimensions the single long wire outline should assume.”

And that? Is pretty cool. We love our people.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

7 Comments on “Your New Nobel Laureate in Chemistry is a Burner

  • Snow says:

    Congratulations, Michael!! This is quite an honor!

    Burners… We are Everyone… and We are Everywhere!

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  • BurnerB says:

    Congratulations Michael [and Rina]! What an accomplishment, to have seen the need and set out to answer the questions. Your work helps us all and each of us in so many ways. Imagine how many other scientific ideas and resolutions have been inspired by your work. Thank You, Kind Sir, and Congratulations on receiving your Noble Prize, very much deserved!

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  • Fellow chemist/burner says:

    Some days you’re a chemist first, and some days you’re a burner first. It takes 100% of both parts together to achieve the highest honor. Creative vision and science are inextricably intertwined and can produce astonishing results. Congratulations Michael. You’re my hero!

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  • The Empress says:

    Congrats to such an inspiring burner!

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  • Weaverman says:

    Mr. Levitt, can you solve the playa dust problem? Here’s the idea:

    Create a (bio)chemical composition that binds with playa dust so that the mixture becomes hard as concrete for a few weeks, after which the chemical composition dissipates/disintegrates/evaporates and leaves no trace.

    I grabbed a jarful of playa dust, if you need some to experiment with.

    :-) Weaverman

    P.S. Congratulations on winning the Nobel!

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  • Hedon says:


    I remember seeing that artwork being assembled and thinking there was something very precise about its construction, like a lot of thought had been put into something that many people would just slap together. The world needs detail-people!

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  • Nick says:

    Micheal and Rina: you’re awesome inspiration, congratulations.

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