The 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for a powerful process to produce carbon bonds important for medicine production, materials science, and electronics–including the tech behind OLED screens.
The Heck reaction, Negishi reaction, and Suzuki reaction are the three independent processes that are being rewarded here: Each was championed by the eponymous scientists, and in concert with the element palladium as a catalyst the three result in a powerful way to create new carbon-carbon bonds.
These bonds are key to synthesizing new medicines, clones of biological molecules, and in producing novel materials in the electronic industry. Without the methods of this year’s Nobel prize, it would’ve been far harder to synthesize “high tech materials that benefit society” in large scales, according to the Nobel Committee, and resulting in the ability to “create sophisticated chemicals, for example carbon-based molecules as complex as those created by nature itself.” In the Prize citation, the Committee noted that without the Heck-Negishi-Suzuki reactions, it wouldn’t have been possible to synthesize an artificial version of a molecule called discodermolide, copied from the poison of a Caribbean marine sponge, that’s been found highly promising as an anti-cancer drug since “among other things, it stopped cancel cells from growing in test tube” conditions. The reactions are also used in producing materials for OLEDs, and there’s even a link to this year’s Physics prize as other scientists have altered the core reactions and one new version has recently been use to attach “palladium atoms to graphene, and the resulting solid material was used to carry out the Suzuki reaction in water.”
Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi, Akira Suzuki all worked independently of each other in different nations around the world, but together their work is “already of great importance to humanity” according to the Prize Committee, and “taking into account the developments currently being made in laboratories worldwide, their reactions are likely to become even more important in the future.”
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