The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Wednesday awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to scientists Benjamin List and David W C MacMillan “for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.”
The prestigious prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.15 million).
Benjamin List is a German chemist while MacMillan is a Scottish born professor of chemistry at Princeton University in the United States.
Organocatalysis, which the two scientists developed, is a new and ingenious tool for molecule building.
Its uses include research into new pharmaceuticals and it has also helped make chemistry greener.
“Organocatalysis has developed at an astounding speed. Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells,” the academy said.
David MacMillan worked with metal catalysts that were easily destroyed by moisture. He wondered whether he could develop a more durable type of catalyst using simple organic molecules. One of these proved to be excellent at asymmetric catalysis.
Benjamin List wondered whether an entire enzyme was really required to obtain a catalyst. He tested whether an amino acid called proline could catalyse a chemical reaction. It worked brilliantly.
Researchers long believed that there were just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes.
Independently of each other NobelPrize laureates Benjamin List and David MacMillan developed a third type – asymmetric organocatalysis – which builds upon small organic molecules.