HomeNewsChemistryNobel Prize for groundbreaking approach of constructing molecules that made chemistry greener

Nobel Prize for groundbreaking approach of constructing molecules that made chemistry greener


List (left) and MacMillan (proper) are winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Credit: NobelPrize.org, CC BY-SA

Benjamin List and David MacMillan, respectively from Germany and the US, will share the ten million Swedish kronor (£870,000) Nobel prize in chemistry 2021 for his or her improvement of “organocatalysis”—a exact instrument for developing molecules which has boosted pharmaceutical analysis and made chemistry greener and cheaper.


Their analysis dates again to 2000, when the chemists independently developed the first steps of what at this time is named “asymmetric organocatalysis,” which is the activation of chemical reactions by small natural molecules.

Many applied sciences and areas of analysis depend on molecules that should be created in chemical reactions. These can, sadly, be very gradual, which is why chemists typically use catalysts—supplies that pace up chemical reactions. Before the work of List and MacMillan, there have been solely two kinds of catalysts obtainable: metals or enzymes. In my opinion, the duo’s most vital achievement was recognizing one thing that no one believed attainable: that small natural molecules akin to may additionally work as catalysts.

Huge advantages

This discovery enabled the pair to create “asymmetric reactions.” In reactions, many molecules are produced in two variations which can be mirror photographs of one another (a property known as chirality). This is annoying whenever you solely need certainly one of them, which is usually the case within the pharmaceutical trade.

Nobel Prize for groundbreaking way of building molecules that made chemistry greener
Thalidomide tablets. Credit: Stephencdickson/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

In reality, that is what went unsuitable with the drug thalidomide, which was developed within the Nineteen Sixties to scale back morning illness in pregnant girls, however ended up resulting in fetus malformations. The drug was an equal combination of each kinds of molecule, nevertheless it turned out that whereas one was efficient, its mirror picture counterpart was poisonous. The fantastic thing about organocatalysis is that you may produce a selected molecule with out its mirror cousin.

The risk of avoiding utilizing metals as catalysts in has additionally made it simpler for pharmaceutical firms to purify compounds. This is a vital ultimate step within the manufacturing of prescription drugs, and entails the elimination of harmful chemical substances, together with sure metallic catalysts.

Another main enchancment of organocatalysis in contrast with different kinds of catalysis is that it’s straightforward to hold out: you are able to do it at room temperature beneath easy circumstances. It can also be simpler to reliably predict and management the outcomes than it’s with different kinds of catalysis.

What’s extra, metallic catalysts akin to palladium or rhodium could be costly. An extraordinarily lovely instance of a less expensive various is proline, a easy amino acid that’s typically used as an organocatalyst, which is so environment friendly that it has totally substituted sure costly and complicated metallic catalysts.

Nobel Prize for groundbreaking way of building molecules that made chemistry greener
The type of response that the researchers invented. If you’re taking ketone and aldehyde, on the left, and add a proline catalyst (within the center above the arrow), this generates the aldol (on the precise, which is aldehyde and alcohol). Author offered

Organocatalysis is not solely a less expensive various, it’s also extra environmentally pleasant, sometimes containing widespread and ample parts akin to oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur or phosphorus relatively than irdium or palladium.

List and MacMillan quickly turn into the leaders of this pioneering new chemistry, growing an increasing number of reactions and catalysts, and envisioning new methods of increasing the sphere. One of a very powerful features of this work was how readily it modified the attitudes of so many natural chemists, who turned their consideration to organocatalysis and embraced it. This meant that chemists in many alternative areas of analysis had been capable of synthesize advanced , which made the sphere develop exponentially.

I had the unbelievable honor to work with List on the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim, Germany in the beginning of this new area (2004-06), whereas I used to be a post-doctoral researcher. I noticed with my very own eyes how dramatically the sphere grew to turn into highly regarded amongst chemists world wide. I additionally noticed how List had a imaginative and prescient that distinguished him from different chemists: he actually believed in his work and he pushed the boundaries of catalysis—basically altering it without end.

I can solely felicitate List and MacMillan on their effectively deserved award—they’ve impressed the profession of so many chemists, together with me.


Eco-friendly drug production Nobel winner’s proudest achievement


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