Benjamin List, David W.C. MacMillan shares Chemistry NobelOctober 6, 2021
Benjamin List, director at Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Germany, and David MacMillan, Professor at Princeton University, USA, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021. The award considered their independent works in 2000 to develop a third type of catalysis called asymmetric organocatalysis and build upon small organic molecules. The prize amount of 10 million Swedish kronor is to be shared equally between the laureates.
“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,” says Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
Organic catalysts have a stable framework of carbon atoms, to which more active chemical groups can attach. These often contain common elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur or phosphorus. This means that these catalysts are both environmentally friendly and cheap to produce.
The rapid expansion in the use of organic catalysts is primarily due to their ability to drive asymmetric catalysis. When molecules are being built, situations often occur where two different molecules can form, which – just like our hands – are each other’s mirror image. Chemists will often only want one of these, particularly when producing pharmaceuticals.
Organocatalysis has developed at an astounding speed since 2000. Benjamin List and David MacMillan remain leaders in the field, and have shown that organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes 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. In this way, organocatalysts are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.