TPU Scientist: Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 Awarded for Method Made Organic Synthesis More Environmentally Friendly

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 has been awarded jointly to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for their development of a new tool for molecular construction — the development of asymmetric organocatalysis. The Norwegian Nobel Committee 2021 reported about it on October 6. Pavel Postnikov, Associate Professor of the TPU Research School of Chemistry and Applied Biomedical Sciences, explained the significance of the 2021 chemistry laureates’ research work and why it is a decent and well-deserved prize.

Benjamin List is a director of the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research (Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany), while David W.C. MacMillan conducts research at Princeton University (Princeton, the USA).

“For a long time, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to organic chemists. During the last years, the Prize was often awarded for research breakthroughs in medicine and biomedicine. Therefore, the chemical community is excited over such a result,” 

Pavel Postnikov noted.

According to Pavel, asymmetric organocatalysis has made a synthesis of organic compounds considerably more environmentally friendly.

“Previously, metal complexes and enzymes were used as catalysts in asymmetric catalysis. Heavy metals always contaminate organic chemicals and sometimes it is challenging to remove them after. In this case, the Prize was awarded for organocatalysis. It means that a catalyst contains only organic compounds and only light elements, as we call them. It is an incomparably more environmentally friendly method. Moreover, hypervalent iodine chemistry actively developed at TPU is one of the types of organocatalysis,” the scientist explained.

Furthermore, the scientist noted that the method developed by the Nobel Prize laureates allows synthesizing chiral molecules, which can be often seen in medication — bioactive compounds.

“This method gave chemists a clear tool for synthesis of such molecules. General principles haven’t existed before,” Pavel Postnikov added. “Therefore, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 for the chemical community is decent and well-deserved.”