Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to two for work on asymmetric catalysis (and a revised contest)

October 6, 2021 • 5:51 am

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has just been awarded to David MacMillan, born in Scotland and now Professor of Chemistry at Princeton, and Benjamin List, listed in a short Wikipedia entry as “professor at the University of Cologne and Director and Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research.” Both were born in 1968, which makes them young (52 or 53).  They have a long time to enjoy their renown! Her are their photos from the Nobel announcement:

Pictures of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Benjamin List and David MacMillan are seen displayed on a screen during The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ announcement at the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden October 6, 2021. Claudio Bresciani/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

ChemistryWorld explains simply what the award was for:

David MacMillan and Benjamin List aren’t a complete surprise but they haven’t been top of people’s lists. We’ve commented on the inherent conservatism of the Nobel committees and how they often reward discoveries long after they made a big impact. The same goes here for asymmetric organocatalysis with the pioneering work over two decades old now. The work of MacMillan and List helped open a new vista in organocatalysis with the creation of catalysts that are selective for one enantiomer – or mirror image molecule – over another. This technology has been applied in everything from drugs to dyes for solar cells. “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. One thing people definitely won’t be saying today is “It’s nice, but is it chemistry!”

You can see the announcement and press conference, which just occurred, on the video below (skip to 18:45 for the start; they were running late). It explains List and MacMillan’s accomplishments in more detail:

Over in Germany, the List lab has already tweeted their congratulations:

Since nobody is going to win the Nobel contest again, I’ve changed the rules to make it easier. Here are the rules for the new iteration (the old version is cancelled as there were few guesses, none correct):

Before tomorrow morning (before Prize time), guess the names of both the Literature Prize winner (announced tomorrow early) and the Peace Prize winner (announced Friday morning).  Please give one name for each category. The first person (if any) who gets both correct wins a special autographed copy of either WEIT or Faith vs. Fact with the animal of your choice drawn in by PCC(E).

Put your guesses in the comments below. This should be easier than the previous iteration, it’s but still not easy. If more than one person is correct, the first correct answer wins.

13 thoughts on “Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to two for work on asymmetric catalysis (and a revised contest)

  1. “the old version is cancelled as there were few guesses, none correct”

    I got Penrose last year – just sayin’. I kind of liked the high bar – I was proud to lose!

    1. This week it seems it’s all I can do to accomplish ADL’s (Activities of of Daily Living), keep the kitchen clean, make up the bed and put my socks and drawers in the laundry hamper during whatever time is not otherwise taken up with working (herding juvenile human primates). I carry around PCC(E)’s Faith Versus Fact in my shoulder bag, trying to finish up the last one-fourth of it. I nominate it for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

  2. I hope that it is not too late to submit a prediction. I guess that Annie Ernaux will win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Greta Thunberg will win the Nobel Prize for Peace. I don’t think that anyone else has submitted both of these names.

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