The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2021 was awarded on Wednesday to German Benjamin List and Scottish-born David MacMillan for their work in creating new methods for constructing molecules that have assisted in the development of novel medicines while also being more ecologically friendly.
Asymmetric organocatalysis, which was characterized as “a novel and creative tool for molecule creation” by the award-giving organization, has also aided in the production of polymers, fragrances, and flavors, among other things.
In a statement, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that “organic catalysts may be employed to drive a wide range of chemical processes.” “Researchers may now more effectively build everything from novel medicines to compounds that can catch light in solar cells by using these processes.”
When used in laboratories or big industrial reactors, catalysts are molecules that maintain their stability while allowing or speeding up chemical processes that would otherwise take place. It was previously believed that only specific metals and sophisticated enzymes could accomplish this feat until the Nobel laureates’ ground-breaking discoveries around the turn of the century.
The academy said that the new generation of small-molecule catalysts was more environmentally friendly and less expensive to manufacture, and it complimented the accuracy of the new tools in their development.
Catalyzed compounds produced by humans would often include not just the desired molecule but also its undesired mirror counterpart. Asymmetric catalysis has eliminated this problem. The drug thalidomide, which caused abnormalities in human foetuses approximately six decades ago, was cited as an example of a catastrophic failure in science.
“The truth is that it is estimated that chemical catalysis contributes to 35 percent of the world’s overall GDP in some manner,” the report said.
List, 53, said that the school tracked him out when he was on vacation in Amsterdam with his wife, who had in the past made the joke that he could be receiving a phone call from someone in Sweden.
While dialling into the media conference announcing the victors, he remarked, “Today, we didn’t even make the joke, and we definitely didn’t expect this – and suddenly Sweden comes on my phone… it was a really wonderful moment that I will never forget.”
List is the director of the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kohlenforschung in Muelheim a der Ruhr, Germany, where he is 53 years old.
He said that he was originally unaware that MacMillan was researching on the same topic and that he thought his intuition may be a “dumb notion” until it proved to be correct.
He and MacMillan are jointly awarded a renowned prize of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.14 million) for discoveries that occurred independently of one another.