Benjamin List (Germany) and David MacMillan (United States) have won the Nobel Chemistry Prize for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction which has helped make chemistry greener.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences made this announcement, Wednesday, on the Nobel Prize website.
The duo were awarded “for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis. This has had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener,” the Nobel Committee said.
The scientists, prior to their work, believed there were only two types of catalysts, metals and enzymes. In 2000, the researchers who were working independently of each other, developed a third type, called “asymmetric organocatalysis”, which relies on small organic molecules.
List and MacMillan, both 53, will share the 10-million-kronor ($1.1-million, one-million-euro) prize.
MacMillan is a professor at Princeton University in the US, while List is a director at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
“Many research areas and industries are dependent on chemists’ ability to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of disease,” the Nobel committee at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.
“This work requires catalysts, which are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions, without becoming part of the final product,” it added.
List was the first to prove that the amino acid proline could drive an aldol reaction, which is when carbon atoms from two different molecules are bonded together.
“Compared to both metals and enzymes, proline is a dream tool for chemists. It is a very simple, cheap and environmentally friendly molecule,” the Academy said.
Last year, the Nobel Chemistry Prize went to Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna, for developing the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 — DNA snipping “scissors”.
The Nobel season continues with the two most closely watched prizes, literature on Thursday and peace on Friday. The winner of the economics prize will be announced on Monday.
The 2021 Nobel season kicked off on Monday with the medicine prize going to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for breakthroughs that paved the way for the treatment of chronic pain.
The physics prize followed on Tuesday when half was awarded to US-Japanese scientist Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann for climate models, and the other half to Italy’s Giorgio Parisi for work on the theory of disordered materials and random processes.