When Aziz Sancar received the Nobel Prize

When Aziz Sancar received the Nobel Prize

After two full days, a sentiment that was stuck in my throat came pouring out… Professor Aziz Sancar was receiving his Nobel Prize at the ceremony… Mozart’s “Turkish March” was being played…

At that moment, his route to success passed through my mind. 

A man born in southeastern Turkey was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is a scientist who received an education provided by the Republic of Turkey; a man who has always been grateful to the opportunities offered.    

One day before, from the Stockholm Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, he conveyed his request to officials in Ankara: “Please provide a very good education to our girls.”

He is a scientist who has never forgotten his country, but who works for the whole of humanity.   

When he received his award, the sentiment that had built up burst out and I started crying tears of joy. 

How happy it is that this country, home to my immigrant mother and father, is applauding the scientific success of an Anatolian boy.

Guests from all around the world are joining in this applause.

Why did they receive the Nobel Prize? 

Tomas Lindahl (Sweden), Paul Modrich (United States) and Aziz Sancar received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on genetics. Genetic information is passed on from cell to cell, from generation to generation. In this process our DNA is under several external attacks every day. The three winning scientists mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard genetic information. 

Sancar mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. Sancar first found out how the repair mechanisms function and then he found the proteins that repair them. 

Sancar’s great features 

Sancar was born and raised in Anatolia and he has never forgotten Anatolia. The republic educated him and he has always expressed his gratitude to the republic.

He has never politicized his work and his life. He has dedicated his scientific life to solving humanity’s biggest nightmare and he has made very important discoveries. 

He has always paid attention to the problem of the education of girls in his country and he has expressed this in every opportunity.  

He is humble. In his cousin’s words, “He has lived his whole life touching the soil.” 

Sancar’s 14 special guests

Every Nobel laureate can invite 14 people to the ceremony. In addition to his wife, Sancar invited three journalists: Me from Hürriyet; Orhan Bursalı from Cumhuriyet, who has been his friend for many years; and Bursalı’s wife, Özlem Yüzak. He invited his nephew Metin Sancar and his wife Aysun Sancar, their children Aziz and Kaan Sancar, and his niece Filiz Sancar. He invited his colleague Zeynep Tümer, who is a famous genetic expert working in Denmark, as well as the head of his own department and a friend with whom he works at the lab. Finally, he also invited Turkish Ambassador to Sweden Kaya Türkmen and his wife Nurdan Türkmen.

Why did he not speak?  

Laureates speak on two separate occasions when they come to receive their Nobel Prize. One is at the special reception two days before the ceremony, when they talk technically about their work. The second is the Nobel speech delivered at the banquet after the official ceremony. 

The rule is that if one person has received the prize then that person speaks. If the prize is given to more than one person, then the alphabetical first one speaks for the group. 

Professor Tomas Lindahl made the speech in the name of the three winning chemists. However, one detail considered a little strange is that Professor Lindhal mentioned the names of his fellow laureates only once in his speech. He only talked about himself; and the only joke he made in his speech was that while he was at high school in Stockholm, he failed in chemistry.


Finally, I want to thank very much Professor Aziz Sancar and his wife for inviting me to this marvelous ceremony, where I was proud for my country. I also want to thank to Cumhuriyet’s Orhan Bursalı, who helped facilitate this visit.