Emet Prize Laureates

Prof. Rafael Mechoulam

Hebrew University of Jerusalem
2012 Laureates of Emet Prize

In Category: Exact Sciences
In Field: Chemistry

Chemistry of natural substances

Prof. Rafael Mechoulam

Jury Statement

“For his groundbreaking studies in the chemistry of natural substances and especially for his research that led to understanding the chemical basis of a new biochemical system of great physiological significance.”


Was born in Bulgaria in 1930. Despite the hardships of the Second World War his family survived and he immigrated to Israel in 1949.

Upon his arrival he started studying chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and after graduating he enlisted to the IDF and served in a military research unit. Following his release he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation at the Weizmann Institute on the synthetic chemistry of steroids and later started focusing on what he calls "the seam line between chemistry and biology."

Following post-doctoral studies at the Rockefeller Institute in New York and a short period of research at the Weizmann Institute, he was appointed department head at the Hebrew University, where he continues his research activity, and where he also served as Rector for three years. His studies focus on the chemistry of natural substances, examine their biological function and the possibility of developing new drugs from them. Among other things, he concentrated on developing the chemistry, biochemistry and the medicinal chemistry of cannabinoid compounds of plant origin.

His work is considered pioneering in the identification of the structure, the total synthesis and the psycho-physiological effects of the active ingredient in the cannabis plant. He later worked on identifying the endogenous cannabinoids substances in the brain, which operate a new biochemical system - the endocannabinoid system. These substances, the best known of which is called anandamid, are involved in a large number of biochemical processes. He is considered the father of cannabinoid research and his studies have also led to the development of new drugs.

His research achievements won him many prizes and awards, among them the Israel Prize in chemistry, the Israel Chemical Society Prize, the Rothschild Prize and the Ulf von Euler Award in Sweden. He is invited to lecture at international conferences and his articles are widely quoted in scientific journals. Since 1994 he has been a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from many universities around the world.