Benjamin List, David MacMillan win 2021 Nobel Chemistry Prize
Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan have won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the "development of asymmetric organocatalysis." The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden. This is the third announcement of the 2021 Nobel Prize after the Nobel Committee announced the honors for Medicine on Monday and Physics on Tuesday.
What was their Nobel-worthy discovery?
The duo developed a precise new tool for molecular construction, which "had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener." Notably, catalysts are a fundamental tool for chemists, but researchers long believed there were just two types of catalysts: metals and enzymes. The two laureates, independent of each other, had developed a third type of catalysis, called "asymmetric organocatalysis," in 2000.
Always like going to extremes: List
After receiving the Nobel Prize, List addressed a press conference. Speaking on his future research, he said, "I always like to go to the extremes. Can we do things that were just impossible before?"
What is a catalyst?
Catalysts are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions without becoming part of the final product. They are required to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries, or inhibit the progression of diseases. Human bodies also contain thousands of catalysts in the form of enzymes, which help create the molecules necessary for life.
Catalysis developed by MacMillan, List environment friendly
The third type of catalysis developed by MacMillan and List is built upon small organic molecules. Such catalysts include a stable framework of carbon atoms, which can allow more active chemical groups to attach. These often contain elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, or phosphorus. Hence, these catalysts are also both environment friendly and cheap to produce.
'As simple as it is ingenious'
Talking about MacMillan and List's work, Johan Åqvist, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said, "This concept for catalysis is as simple as it is ingenious, and the fact is that many people have wondered why we didn't think of it earlier."
Organocatalysts bringing greatest benefit to humankind: Nobel Committee
The Nobel Committee noted that since 2000, organocatalysis has developed at an "astounding speed." Organic catalysts can be used to facilitate different kinds of chemical reactions. "Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells," the Nobel Committee said. "In this way, organocatalysts are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind."