How to become a Nobel laureate

And how excellence can be achieved by those with humble origins...
24 February 2022

Interview with 

Louis Ignarro


A Nobel Prize medal on a black background.


Lou Ignarro recounts his immigrant family's settling in America, and his own interest in science from a young age. He attributes a fascination with chemistry and biology in his formative years, combined with his incessant questioning nature, as crucially significant to the later success he enjoyed in his field...

Lou - I can only tell you about myself. For me it was a really incredible roller coaster ride. My parents were immigrants from Italy. They moved to New York where they met, they got married and I came along. My parents never went to school, they were completely uneducated. That trickled down on me, because when I started elementary school I didn't know that much. My English was very poor. My Italian was good. Nevertheless, because of my passion and motivation to learn, I was able to continue and raise my grades through elementary school. I had a great passion for science. Why did I love chemistry? I liked making firecrackers. I liked making bombs, which I made quite a few of. I loved biology. I liked dissecting animals I found outside and noticed how their organs resembled the human organs, which I used to look at from an anatomy book. I never lost my passion and interest for science and I kept raising all kinds of questions. The one question I raised in high school, for example, was 'how come so many of my friends and relatives die of cardiovascular disease when they're 50 and others just live on and on and on and never get sick?' I thought that ‘maybe healthy people produce some molecule in the body that protects them against heart disease and the ones who get sick are not as lucky and they don't make enough or any at all.’ Well, I kept it in my mind as I was going through my studies. One thing led to another. We did some experiments and we were able to find that molecule; nitric oxide. But to get to that point, I had to struggle. I remember a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said "Do not go where the path may lead, but instead, go where there is no path and create a trail."


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