Simple, but brilliant: on Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Synopsis: This year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry is awarded for the discovery of an efficient, “precise, cheap, fast and environmentally friendly” concept of catalysis asymmetric organocatalysis.

ReadWhat is asymmetric organocatalysis?

Significance of discovery

Simpler: This concept for making molecules is simpler than one could ever imagine.

Accelerating research: The multitudes of new organocatalysts developed have helped drive a variety of chemical reactions, in turn accelerating pharmaceutical drug research.

Other expensive catalysts: In 2001, the three scientists who first developed asymmetric catalysts won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But such catalysts often use heavy metals, making them expensive and environmentally harmful.

Easing the process of molecules: Natural and synthesised molecules can exist in two forms — right-handed and left-handed. Their properties very often vary depending on their handedness. In the 1950-60s, thalidomide was widely used to treat nausea in pregnant women, but caused severe birth defects. It became clear that the right-handed molecule was highly toxic. But asymmetric organocatalysts allowed the production of molecules of the desired mirror-image form.

Minimizes waste: Other catalysts require the isolation and purification of each intermediate product. It leads to loss of substance at every stage. On the other hand, the use of asymmetric organocatalysts minimizes waste by allowing several steps in molecule production to continue without interruption.

Source: This post is based on the article “Simple, but brilliant: on Nobel Prize for Chemistry” published in The Hindu on 9th Oct 2021.

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