The Big Day in Stockholm

Back in Durham, a wave for Duke's Robert Lefkowitz

Robert Lefkowitz's mother-in-law Charlotte Tippett waves at the image of Lefkowitz entering the Nobel Prize ceremony Monday. Tippett and others watched the ceremony from a live stream broadcast in Schiciano Auditorium.

Duke scientist Robert Lefkowitz received his Nobel Prize Monday in Stockholm. Back in Durham, his mother-in-law, Charlotte Tippett, stood up and cheered.

Tippett and Gwen Tilley, Lefkowitz's sister-in-law, opted to stay home in Durham this week rather than travel with about a dozen other family members to witness Lefkowitz accept his famous medallion from the king of Sweden.

Instead, they joined a group on campus Monday morning in Duke's Schiciano Auditorium to watch the live webcast, waving at the screen each time Lefkowitz appeared. After, Tippett was nearly breathless with excitement. She said she's been like that since the Nobel Prize winners for this year were named two months ago.

"I've bragged about it so much people just walk away off when they see me coming," Tippett gushed. "It's just overwhelming."

 Watch Lefkowitz receive his prize.

Tippett and Tilley said the sight of Lefkowitz accepting the Nobel Prize from Sweden's King Gustav was surreal. But they expected that Lefkowitz, an uncommonly cool character, took it in stride.

"He's not a stuffy scientist at all," Tilley said. "But I think it has probably sunk in now. He's probably relieved."

Lefkowitz, who has spent his entire 39-year research career at the Duke University Medical Center, is sharing the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Brian K. Kobilka of Stanford University School of Medicine, who was a post-doctoral fellow in Lefkowitz's lab in the 1980s.

They were recognized for their work on a class of cell surface receptors that have become the target of prescription drugs, including antihistamines, ulcer drugs and beta blockers to relieve hypertension, angina and coronary disease.

His work has long been lauded at Duke, said Arno Greenleaf, a biochemistry professor who watched the campus webcast.

"He's always been one of the leaders at Duke," Greenleaf said. "A lot of us have been expecting him to get this for a long time. It's great for Duke."

Lefkowitz is known as much for his mentoring as his science. His lab has produced more than 200 graduate students and post-docs, including R. Sanders "Sandy" Williams, who later became his dean at Duke, and several researchers who, like Lefkowitz, went on to become Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators themselves. Lefkowitz is a professor of biochemistry, immunology and medicine, and also a basic research cardiologist in the Duke Heart Center.

Among those who watched the prize ceremony Monday at Duke was Nick Barrows, a graduate student in molecular genetics and microbiology.

"For someone early in his career in science, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said.