This year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry will go to the German Benjamin List and the American David MacMillan. They get him to develop an asymmetric organic catalyst, or as the Nobel Committee says, “an inventive way to build molecules.”
“The world is full of molecules,” says Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede of the Nobel Committee. “To make them, you need to connect atoms. Thats not easy. Sometimes you have to help them. We had two ways to do that until the year 2000.” Then MacMillan and List found out separately that it can also be done in a cheap, fast and accurate way.
Their discovery has had a significant impact on drug development and chemical making, according to the committee. “Their discovery has brought many good things to humanity.”
The Committee argues that the discovery makes chemical processes more sustainable. Committee member Peter Somfai mentions the production of the virus inhibitor oseltamivir as an example. According to Somfai, the current production process consists of twelve reactions. With the new type of catalyst, the number of steps can be reduced to five. “Then you should know that every step of reaction has an impact on the environment. Its important to reduce the number of steps needed to create a molecule,” says Somfai.
Laureate Benjamin List was surprised by the Nobel Committee during his holiday in the Netherlands. “Im in Amsterdam. We visited a concert at the Concertgebouw and we are having a wonderful day, and I didnt expect this huge surprise and you really made my day. Thank you.”
According to List, the impact of the discovery is now becoming clearer. “Our first catalysts were perhaps a million times less efficient than what we had.” But now, according to List, the new catalysts can also do things you dont get done with the other two types of catalysts.
Last year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American biochemist Jennifer Doudna. They developed a method to change DNA easily.
It is the third Nobel Prize to be announced this week. Yesterday was the Nobel Prize in Physics, and Monday was the one for Medicine. The Nobel Prize in Literature will be scheduled tomorrow, the Peace Prize on Friday and the Economy Monday. The presentations are in December. The price has an amount of almost one million euros.