Aziz Sancar

Aziz Sancar, a Turkish Professor at the University of North Carolina, was one of three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He received the award together with Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich for “having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments.”

I don’t know the details of Aziz’s research. All I know is that, as a result of his research, we’re that much closer to understanding our DNA, how it decays, and how it can be repaired. Other researchers will build on his research, and when it’s ready companies will eventually commercialize it to improve human lives. That’s a worthy cause.

Following his receipt of the Nobel Prize, Aziz gave a brief talk to the press which you can watch here (I couldn’t embed it on this page). There were two key parts of the talk.

First, Aziz shares how the University of North Carolina was the only school to offer him a job when he applied. Sometimes all you need is one person or organization to believe in you to get started. After you catch that break, it’s up to you to work hard to turn it into a lasting accomplishment.

Second, Aziz shares that he comes from a small town near the Syrian border of Turkey. The region has been plagued by violence over the last few years. To solve these issues, Aziz states that we need to work towards “scientific approaches to our problems rather than concentrating on things that divide us …”

This is an important point. Cross-disciplinary thinking is necessary to make progress on not only what’s happening on the Syrian border of Turkey, but on humanity’s most important problems in general. Scientific thinking has a lot to teach politics (for example, about what the ultimate solution needs to look like), just as political thinking has a lot to teach science (for example, about what we need to do to arrive at the ultimate solution). Leaders equipped with both are best positioned to move the human race forward.