Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

New Delhi: Benjamin List from Germany and David WC MacMillan from the United States have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.

The duo was awarded “for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis. This has had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener,” the Nobel Committee said.

Researchers for the longest time believed that there were, in principle, just two types of catalysts available- metals and enzymes. Until, Mac Millan and Benjamin working independently developed asymmetric organocatalysis, the third type of catalysis.

MacMillan worked to develop a more durable type of catalyst, than metal catalysts which are easily destroyed by moisture. For this, he used  simple organic molecules, which 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 and it ended up working brilliantly.

“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,” says Johan Åqvist, who is chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Asymmetric organocatalysis has now taken molecular construction to an entirely new level. It has not only made chemistry greener but also made it much easier to produce asymmetric molecules, the Nobel Prize Committee said.

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 cell. In this way, organocatalysts are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.

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