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Chemistry Nobel for developing tool to build molecules

Context:

The Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to German scientist Benjamin List of the Max Planck Institute and Scotland-born scientist David WC MacMillan of Princeton University for their work in developing a new way for building molecules.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Chemistry Nobel laureates and their work
  2. What is Organocatalysis?

About the Chemistry Nobel laureates and their work

  • The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Germany’s Benjamin List and David MacMillan of the United States for “their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis.”
  • Mr List and Mr MacMillan in 2000 independently developed a new way of catalysis.

Significance of their discovery

  • Many research areas and industries are dependent on chemists’ ability to construct molecules that can form elastic and durable materials, store energy in batteries or inhibit the progression of disease.
  • This work requires catalysts, which are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions, without becoming part of the final product.
  • Prior to the work of the laureates, scientists believed there were only two types of catalysts, metals and enzymes.
  • In 2000, the researchers, working independently of each other, developed a third type, called “asymmetric organocatalysis”, which relies on small organic molecules.
  • List was the first to prove that the amino acid “proline,” which he called his favourite catalyst, could drive an aldol reaction, which is when carbon atoms from two different molecules are bonded together. Compared to both metals and enzymes, proline is very simple, cheap and environmentally friendly molecule.

What is Organocatalysis?

  • In organic chemistry, organocatalysis is a form of catalysis in which the rate of a chemical reaction is increased by an organic catalyst.
  • This “organocatalyst” consists of carbon, hydrogen, sulfur and other nonmetal elements found in organic compounds.
  • Because of their similarity in composition and description, they are often mistaken as a misnomer for enzymes due to their comparable effects on reaction rates and forms of catalysis involved.
  • Primary advantage of Organocatalysis is that there is no need for metal-based catalysis thus making a contribution to green chemistry.

-Source: The Hindu

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June 2022
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