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Benjamin List, David WC MacMillan win 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

 The duo developed a precise new tool for molecular construction, which had a great impact on pharmaceutical research.

From L-R: Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan. (Photo: Twitter/Nobel Prize)

Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.

The duo developed a precise new tool for molecular construction, which had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden.

Catalysts are fundamental tools for chemists, but researchers long believed that there were, in principle, just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. The Academy said that Benjamin List, professor at the Max Plack Institute in Germany, and David MacMillan, who is currently with Princeton University, in 2000, independent of each other, developed a third type of catalysis. It is called asymmetric organocatalysis and builds upon small organic molecules.

“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, who is chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

"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," the Academy said in a statement.

"Chemistry was the most important science for Alfred Nobel’s own work. The development of his inventions as well as the industrial processes he employed were based upon chemical knowledge. Chemistry was the second prize area that Nobel mentioned in his will," the Academy said.

The 2020 Nobel in Chemistry was awarded jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing. The researchers had discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. The technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences contributing to new cancer therapies.

The announcement comes a day after the Academy awarded the 2021 Nobel in Physics to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann, Giorgio Parisi jointly for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems. The scientists contributed to the understanding of global complex systems like climate.

So far 186 people have been recognised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for their contribution in the field of which seven are women. The list of laureates includes the likes of Marie Curie, who was awarded Nobel in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.

The prize comes with an amount of 10 million Swedish kronor, to be shared equally between the laureates.

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