The continuing legacy of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prizes are the most coveted honors in the world. Notable scientists Albert Einstein and Madame Marie Curie, have earned these prestigious prizes for their groundbreaking and culture altering work. Awarded each December, the announcement of winners comes in early Fall. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to three men, University of Delawares’ Richard Heck Delaware, Purdue University’s Ei-Ichi Negishi and Hokkaido University’s Akira Suzuki.
Carbon seems to the theme for the scientific prizes with University of Manchester researchers Drs. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov earning the prize for their discovery of a two dimensional form of carbon, graphene. For Drs. Heck, Negishi and Suzuki, their work involved developing an efficient way to create chains of carbon atoms, which are crucial in the synthesis of complex molecules used in the development of everything from agriculture to electronic components to medicines to plastics.
Heck, born in 1935, earned his undergraduate, masters and doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles. A brilliant researcher. Heck worked for Hercules Corporation and complete postdoctoral work at ETH Zurich. Ultimately, he would retire from a professor’s post at University of Delaware. His research into carbon couplings spanned decades.
Negishi, also born in 1935, completed his undergraduate work at the University of Tokyo and earned his Ph.D at the University of Pennsylvania in 1958. By 1966, he arrived at Purdue University to complete post doctoral work. During is early time at Purdue, Negishi worked with 1979 Nobel Laureate in Chemstry, Henry Brown. After a short stint at Syracuse University, the talented organic chemist Negishi was promoted to the professor post at Purdue. His work on palladium catalysts was reported in the late 1970s.
Born in 1930, Suzuki earned his doctorate from Hokkaido University where he became a professor. He traveled to Purdue to complete his post doctoral work and like Negishi worked with Dr. Henry Brown. Suzuki, now 80, discovered the process which bears his name in 1963 while studying at Purdue.
The achievements of each of these men have continued to have far reaching implications. While carbon is one of the building blocks of life, creating carbon networks or skeletons is not easy to create. While nature may have mastered this task, synthesizing these unique carbon structures is not. Working independently, Suzuki, Heck and Negishi found ways of using the metal palladium as a catalyst for linking carbon molecules. And, there inspiration- A Caribbean sea sponge that produces discodemodile to ward off predators.
The three chemists will receive their Prize in Oslo, Norway on the 109th anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.