The Nobel in chemistry to a duo of catalyst champions

The Nobel Prize in chemistry crowned the German Benjamin List and the British-born researcher based in the United States David MacMillan on Wednesday. They are rewarded for having invented a new way to manufacture molecules, at a lower cost and in a cleaner way.

The scientists, both aged 53, developed asymmetric catalysis (or organocatalysis) in 2000. A new type of catalyst that has since developed “at an amazing speed” similar to a “gold rush”, explained the Nobel jury.

Catalysts – substances that control and speed up chemical reactions, but are not part of the end product – are fundamental tools for chemists. But researchers have long believed that there are, in principle, only two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes.

Independently of each other, List, based in the Ruhr region of Germany and MacMillan, born in Scotland but based in the United States, have developed a third way, using “small organic molecules” like proline and continue to be at the forefront in this field, underlined the Nobel jury.

A “dream” tool

Unlike metals and enzymes, proline is a “dream” tool for chemists: it is a very simple, inexpensive and environmentally friendly molecule.

“This is a game-changer because it gives us a new tool,” said Academy of Sciences member Peter Somfai. “In chess, it would be like bringing a new player onto the board with new rules of the game.”

Thanks to organocatalysis, pharmacy researchers can now manufacture large volumes of different molecules in a relatively simple way, for example by making them artificially instead of isolating them in small quantities from rare plants, for example.

“It’s a huge surprise,” reacted Benjamin List, contacted by phone by the Nobel Foundation. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me. I was having breakfast with my wife. Usually she says ‘check your phone if someone calls from Sweden’, but today she didn’t. not joking, “said the German researcher from the Max-Planck Institute.

“A very special moment”

“And when Sweden does appear on the phone … it’s a very special moment that I will never forget,” List said.

Medicine opened the way for Nobel scientists on Monday by crowning Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, whose work on touch and nerve receptors paved the way for fighting chronic pain.

In full alarm on global warming, the Nobel in physics crowned him on Tuesday two old experts in warming, the American-Japanese Syukuro Manabe and the German Klaus Hasselmann, as well as the Italian Giorgio Parisi, Italian theorist of disordered phenomena, of which meteorology is a part.

ats, afp

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