Sidney Altman is a Montreal-born molecular biologist who won the 1989 Nobel Prize for his discovery of catalytic RNA (with co-recipient Thomas Cech).
Born and raised in NDG, Altman was the second-born son of hardworking immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, who placed a strong emphasis on education. His mother worked in a textile mill and his father worked in a grocery store. Altman’s interest in nuclear physics was inspired by the atom bomb, Albert Einstein, and his voracious appetite for reading as a child.
Altman did his undergraduate degree at MIT, receiving his PhD in molecular biology from the University of Colorado. He worked on two research fellowships, one at Harvard and a second one at Cambridge, with Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA’s molecular structure. It was at Cambridge that he began the experiments that would eventually lead to his breakthrough discovery that RNA itself had catalytic properties, just a few weeks before his fellowship ended.
Returning to North America, Altman was hired by Yale University, where he has remained ever since. He is currently the Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Chemistry. He is married to Ann M. Körner and they have two children.