Benjamin List and David William Cross Macmillan have been jointly awarded the 2021 Nobel prize in Chemistry “for the development of Asymmetric Organocatalysis.” The duo was awarded for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction. It was said by the Nobel committee that this is surely going to have a great impact on pharmaceutical research and has helped in making chemistry more interesting, they both are 53 and have also won 10 million as a cash prize.


These winners were announced by the Secretary-General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences – Goran Hansson. The duo is being greatly appreciated for developing a new way of building molecules. The panel has also said that these two great people have already discovered a new way of catalysis in 2000. This discovery has already helped humankind. 


About the Noble prize winners: Benjamin List and David Macmillan


Benjamin List is also known as Ben List was born on 11 Jan 1968. He is a professor of organic chemistry, at the University of Cologne. He is also a German chemist and the director of Max Planck Institute for Coal Research. He also developed Organocatalysis, a method of accelerating chemical reactions and making them more efficient. He was born in a middle-class family which consists of scientists and artists. 


David William Cross MacMillan is a British – American, he was born in Bellshill, Scotland on 16th March 1968, he has done his graduation from the University of Glasgow. 

This work requires catalysts, those are substances that control and accelerate chemical reactions, without becoming part of the final product.


Let’s know more about the discovery: Asymmetric Organocatalysis


The work of Benjamin and David has allowed scientists to produce the molecules in a much cleaner and environment friendlier way which is cheap, safe, and less hazardous. Before the work of these two laureates, scientists believed there were only two types of catalysts- metals and enzymes. The project focuses on the making of molecules that requires linking atoms together in specific arrangements, which is a difficult and slow task. Until the beginning of the millennium, chemists had only two methods—or catalysts—to speed up the process, using either complicated enzymes or metal catalysts.


Catalysts are thus fundamental tools for chemists, but for a very long time, researchers believed that there are just two types of catalysts available: metals and enzymes. List and MacMillan are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 because in 2000 they, independent of each other, developed a third type of catalysis. It is called asymmetric organocatalysis and builds upon small organic molecules.



Advantages of Organocatalysts: A Boon for the Mankind


Organocatalysts have many advantages in the field of chemistry and science which are as follows: –


  • Organocatalysis is widely applicable for the reactions performed in large-scale industries.
  • The reactions which can’t be performed earlier by other catalysts are possible now with the help of asymmetric organocatalysts
  • Elements like alkaloids, natural amino acids, L-proline, tartaric acid, and others are easily available at an economical rate. Thus, it helps in reducing the cost incurred for other expensive catalysts.
  • As organocatalysts are biodegradable, they are easily recyclable as compared to metal catalysts.
  • By using metal catalysts, sometimes the final product after the reaction may contain a high level of metal contamination due to the catalyst degradation phenomena. This can pose a serious drawback, especially for the food and pharmaceutical industries. This situation can be avoided by using organocatalysts.


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