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Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to scientists who found 'greener' way to build molecules

Nobel Prize
Posted at 5:12 AM, Oct 06, 2021

STOCKHOLM — Two scientists have won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for finding an "ingenious" new way to build molecules that can be used to make everything from medicines to food flavorings.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Wednesday that the work of Benjamin List of Germany and Scotland-born David W.C. MacMillan has already had a significant impact on pharmaceutical research and made chemistry "greener."

Making molecules requires linking individual atoms together in a specific arrangement. It is a difficult and slow task. Until the beginning of the millennium, chemists had only two methods to speed up the process.

That all changed in 2000 when List and MacMillan independently reported that small organic molecules could be used to do the same job as big enzymes and metal catalysts. The method is known as asymmetric organocatalysis.

"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, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, according to CNN.

According to the BBC, scientists have since used the method to discover new drugs and create molecules that can capture light in solar cells.

The discovery initiated a "totally new way of thinking for how to put together chemical molecules," said Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the chemistry Nobel committee, according to CNN.