October 26, 2021

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Scientists Who Developed Cheap And Environmental-Friendly Molecular Toolkits Awarded Chemistry Nobel

A duo of scientists who developed “elegant” organic catalysts that are currently used for producing a wide variety of drugs and other chemicals have won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Benjamin List and David MacMillan working independently of each other developed the toolkit that helped speed up and control chemical reactions, and crucially developed new techniques called “asymmetric organocatalysis” – used for distinguishing and synthesizing molecules that are different from their mirror-image.

Credit: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Prize Outreach

“The pair developed ‘a truly elegant tool for making molecules’ — simpler than one could ever imagine,” said Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, Nobel committee member for Chemistry during the announcement. “Until the year 2000, we only knew about two forms of catalysts. But then everything changed. Benjamin List and David MacMillan independently reported that you can use small organic molecules to do the same job as big enzymes and metal catalysts in reactions that are precise, cheap, fast, and environmentally friendly.”

Catalysts are substances used to accelerate chemical reactions in a controlled manner and are a fundamental tool in chemistry. Both List and MacMillan independently developed organic catalysts, made up of carbon and other elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, which are cheaper and more sustainable than previously used catalysts, which were mostly made up of metals.

Benjamin List is currently the director of the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Germany, while David MacMillian is a professor at Princeton University, in the United States.

Cover Image: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Prize Outreach

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