The Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded on Wednesday to German Benjamin List and Scottish-born David MacMillan for developing new tools for building molecules that have helped make new drugs and are more environmentally friendly.
Their work on asymmetric organocatalysis, which the award-giving body described as “a new and ingenious tool for molecule building”, has also helped in the development of plastics, perfumes and flavours.
“Organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. “Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.”
Researchers long believed that there were just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. Independently of each other Nobel Prize laureates Benjamin List and David MacMillan developed a third type – asymmetric organocatalysis – which builds upon small organic molecules, the Nobel Committee said in a statement.
The academy said the new generation of small-molecule catalysts were more friendly for the environment and cheaper to produce, and praised the precision of the new tools.
The more than century-old Nobel prizes is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.14 million) for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.
They have been awarded since 1901, with the economics prize first handed out in 1969.
The Nobel Prize in chemistry is the third Nobel awarded this week after the prizes for medicine or physiology awarded to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, and of physics to Syukuro Manabe from Japan, Germany’s Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi of Italy.