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Nobel winner grew up in Provo

Paul D. Boyer, who was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry this week, traces his success as a biochemist to his early years as a student in Provo.

Boyer was born in Provo in 1918 and grew up in a neighborhood on University Avenue. As a youngster, he attended Provo's public schools and cultivated a curiosity in the way things worked."I used to take kitchen utensils apart and take the doors off cupboards, things like that," Boyer told the Deseret News from his home in Los Angeles, Calif. "(My mother) tolerated all that. I learned that you can accomplish things by doing. It was a splendid environment for raising families."

Boyer learned Wednesday from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that he would share the Nobel Prize with the United Kingdom's John E. Walker for their research on the enzymatic process behind the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and with Denmark's Jens C. Skou, the first to discover a particular ion-transporting enzyme.

The 79-year-old Boyer, who did the bulk of his prize-winning work between 1969 and 1983 while the director of the Molecular Biology Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, receives $250,000 as Nobel laureate. He credits his family for encouraging him to experiment with building things and his early teachers for inspiring him.

"In later years, I recognized how much I was indebted to the quality education I received (in Provo)," he said. "I particularly remember my instruction in biology and chemistry there."

After graduating from Provo High School in 1935, Boyer "walked up the street the other direction" to Brigham Young University, which had fewer than 5,000 students at that time. Besides focusing on his chemistry and mathematics studies, Boyer was a student leader.

"It wasn't big," he said. "You knew an awful lot of people on campus. You could be a big fish in a little pond."

He remembers a particularly influential course in qualitative analysis taught by John Wing in the basement of the Education Building, which now stands vacant at Academy Square, on what was then called "lower campus."

"(Wing's) demand for precision and way of approaching the class made it so I learned," Boyer said.

Boyer met his wife, Lyda, at BYU before graduating in 1939. The Boyers then left for graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, where Paul was awarded a doctorate in 1943.

After teaching 17 years at the University of Minnesota, Boyer accepted a position at UCLA. His unique methods of research broadened man's understanding of how the energy-storing molecule ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, does its job.

Boyer has been professor emeritus at UCLA since 1990. He now splits his time between Los Angeles and Wyoming and maintains ties with UCLA. In fact, in November, he and a grandson who is earning a Ph.D at UCLA in molecular biology will be featured speakers at an annual retreat of the Molecular Biology Institute.

Boyer's sister, Provo resident Birdie Boorman, said the memory of their mother, who died when Paul was about 15, may have inspired her brother to achieve greatness. Their parents allowed Paul to tinker with things.

"Father made us think we could do anything we wanted to do and be anything we wanted to be," she said. "Paul was a builder of tree houses and other things."

Boyer has spent the last decade trying to thank teachers, colleagues and mentors who have helped him over the years.

"I'd like to take an opportunity to say how much we depend on these dedicated people who teach in our schools," he said. "They're mostly underpaid and underappreciated."