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Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 jointly awarded to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan: All you need to know

Arfa Javaid

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021:  The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been jointly awarded to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis. 

Speaking on the occasion, Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry said, "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."

The 2021 #NobelPrize in Chemistry has been awarded to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan “for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.”

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2021

WATCH LIVE: Join us for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry announcement.

Hear the breaking news first – see the live coverage from 11:45 CEST.

Where are you watching from? #NobelPrize

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2021

Discoveries by Benjamin List and David MacMillan

Several industries, as well as research areas, are dependent on chemists' ability to construct molecules to form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of diseases. Catalysts are essential for their progression as they control and accelerate chemical reactions, without being a part of the final product.  Human bodies also contain thousands of catalysts in the form of enzymes that chisel out the molecules essential for life. 

The researchers for long believed that there were only two types of catalysts-- metals and enzymes, but in 2000, Benjamin List and David MacMillan, independent of each other, developed a third type-- asymmetric organocatalysis. This impacted pharmaceutical research positively, thereby making Chemistry greener. 

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

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2021

Organic catalysts have a stable framework of carbon atoms and more active chemical groups can be attached to them. They contain elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur or phosphorus, meaning that they are both environmentally friendly and cheap to produce.

The increased use of organic catalysts is due to their ability to drive asymmetric catalysis. Whenever molecules are being built, two different molecules can form-- just like our hands which are each other's mirror image. Chemists would want to use any one of them when producing pharmaceuticals. 

Both Benjamin List and David MacMillan lead the field and have demonstrated how organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions. With the help of these reactions, chemists can now produce anything ranging from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.

Thus, organocatalysts are bringing the greatest benefit to mankind and have been developed at an astounding speed since 2000.   

2021 chemistry laureates Benjamin List and David MacMillan have developed a new and ingenious tool for molecule building: organocatalysis. Its uses include research into new pharmaceuticals and it has also helped make chemistry greener.#NobelPrize

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2021

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021: About the winners

Benjamin List  David W.C. MacMillan

Born in 1968 in Frankfurt, Germany, Benjamin List received a Ph.D. from Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany in the year 1997.

He is currently the Director of  the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.

Benjamin List – awarded the #NobelPrize in Chemistry – 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.

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2021

Born in 1968 in Bellshill, United Kingdom, David W.C. MacMillan received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine, the USA in 1996.

He is presently serving as a Professor at Princeton University, USA.

2021 #NobelPrize laureate 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.

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2021

About Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize is one of the most distinguished awards presented for intellectual achievement each year in six different fields, viz. Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Economic Sciences and Peace. 

The prize comes with a gold medal, diploma and prize money of 10 million Swedish Kronor. The prize money is given from the legacy left behind by the creator of the Nobel Prize, Alfred Nobel. The prize is accorded to people who have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind during the preceding year. 

What is the selection process?

The eligible candidates are shortlisted by the nominators who have received the invitation from the Nobel Committee to submit the names for consideration. These individuals are generally prominent academics working in a relevant area.

For the Peace Prize, the inquiries are sent to governments, former Peace Prize laureates, and current or former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The winners of the Nobel Prize are selected by the prize-awarding institutions by a majority vote. 

Read more on Nobel Prize: Nobel Prize: History, Creation, Categories, Selection Process, and Winners

Nobel Prize 2021 schedule

It is to be noted that the Nobel Prizes will be announced from 4 October to 11 October 2021. Check the complete schedule below: 

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