The 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to German scientist Benjamin List and British scientist David MacMillan for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction, known as organocatalysis. This discovery has had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said announcing the award on Wednesday.
Catalysts are fundamental tools for chemists, but researchers long believed that there were, in principle, just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. In 2000, Benjamin List and David MacMillan, 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,” said Johan Åqvist, who is chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
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.
Benjamin List, born 1968 in Frankfurt, is currently Director of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.
The UK-born David W.C. MacMillan, 53, is Professor at Princeton University, U.S.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences will distribute the Nobel Prize at an award ceremony to be held in Stockholm in December.
The laureates will share the prize amount of 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.13 million) equally.
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