The Buzz | Nobel in chemistry honors ‘greener’ way to build molecules

Two scientists won the Nobel Prize for chemistry yesterday for finding an “ingenious” new way to build molecules that can be used to make everything from medicines to food flavorings.
The work of Benjamin List of Germany and Scotland-born David W.C. MacMillan has allowed scientists to produce those molecules more cheaply, efficiently, safely — and with significantly less environmental impact.
“It’s already benefiting humankind greatly,” said Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the Nobel panel.
Making molecules — which requires linking individual atoms together in specific arrangement — is a difficult and slow task. Until beginning of the millennium, chemists had only two methods — or catalysts — to speed up the process.
That all changed in 2000, when List, of the Max Planck Institute, and MacMillan, of Princeton University, independently reported that small organic molecules can be used to do the same job as big enzymes and metal catalysts.
The new method, known as asymmetric organocatalysis, “is used widely today, for example, in drug discovery and in fine chemicals production,” said Wittung-Stafshede.
Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel panel, called the new method as “simple as it is ingenious.”

Categories World