Nobel Week Continues With the Chemistry Prize, Awarded To…

By Andrew Moseman | October 6, 2010 10:36 am

NobelChemistryAkira Suzuki, Ei-ichi Negishi, and Richard Heck.

These three scientists won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry this morning for their discoveries that made it easier and cheaper to build long carbon chains in the lab, and use those chains to develop new drugs, build electronics, and more.

Despite the ubiquity of carbon chains in nature, they’re hard to make in the lab at room temperature. The three chemists independently created essentially the same way to skirt this problem, using palladium to link carbon atoms through a process called palladium-catalyzed cross coupling. The palladium is a go-between, bonding to carbon to bring its atoms closer to one another than they could go on their own. The carbons then break their attachment to palladium and bond together in chains.

“What palladium does is to lower those energy barriers between atoms to make it easier for these reactions to occur,” says chemist Joseph Francisco, president of the American Chemical Society. “Some reaction processes that required hundreds of degrees Celsius in order to make those reactions go can often be done with this at room temperature. You can imagine the energy savings of producing new materials.” [Scientific American]

Because the three chemists’ method is so easy to use, it shows up across fields. Claes Gustafsson of the Nobel committee says electronics companies use a version to create thin monitors and TVs. But the most important applications are in the pharmaceutical industry.

“There have been calculations that no less than 25 percent of all chemical reactions in the pharmaceutical industry are actually based on these methods,” Gustafsson said. [AP]

However, these three are not the first to take home the prize for linking carbon atoms.

Forming carbon-to-carbon bonds has long been a focus of chemistry, and various methods—starting with Victor Grignard’s use of magnesium to help bind carbon atoms in 1912—have been awarded the chemistry Nobel.”This won’t be the last one,” Francisco says. “What this does is add to the toolbox for a chemist in terms of tools that they can use to build [compounds] more cleanly and more efficiently.” [Scientific American]

The win for these chemists followed up yesterday’s award of the physics prize to two scientists for their work with graphene, a material made of carbon sheets one atom thick. All this credit for carbon work pleased David Phillips, president of Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry:

“I’m pleased to say this year’s Nobels have had a distinctly chemical flavour.” [The Guardian]

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Image: Nobel Foundation (Suzuki, Negishi, Heck)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Rhacodactylus

    Awesome, I remember reading somewhere that the graphene production process was assisted by very sticky tape. I love when there is a common sense, but brilliant idea like that at the Nobels


  • Michael Pyshnov

    In 1980, I published an article describing a model of one biological structure – the crypt of intestinal epithelium, completely similar to the structure later found in graphene tubes (Pyshnov, M. B., Topological Solution for Cell Proliferation in Intestinal Crypt, J. theor. Biol., 1980, v.87, 189-200). In 2005, Sergei Fedorov and myself published a computer simulation of topological transformations occuring in the model of the crypt ( Apparently, these works remain largely unknown to physicists, with the exception of one reference to them (, where the structure of the crypt is called “a living curiosity”. Only from this reference I learned about graphene.

    Publications describing graphene tubes are appearing, repeating the discovery of topological properties found in the model of the crypt. Some of them are adding a topological closure to the graphene tube at one end. Such closure is completely similar to the bottom part of the crypt model. I am not sure, however, that the interdependency between the structure of this closure and the structure of the cylindrical part of the graphene tube is understood in the degree it was shown in my 1980 paper and subsequently in the computer model of 2005.

    The crypt model also includes the complex process of replacing dying cells with the new cells appearing by cell division, while graphene is a structure not capable of anything like multiplication of the elements of its structure, the atoms. However, when the formation of defects in the structure of graphene occurs, the explanation of structural transformations found in the crypt model can probably be helpful. To conclude, I find the striking similarities very delightful, and I hope that one day biological structures will receive at least as much attention of the researchers.

  • Henry Hall

    Habe eine zeitlang als Tupperpartys organisiert sowie Schmuck und der gleichen über ähnliche Partys vertrieben kann nur sagen lohnt sich nicht bzw lohnt nur bedingt am anfang wenn noch genügend Freunde und Bekannte mit machen Resümee kann als nebenjob nicht empfohlen werden


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