Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to 2 scientists for developing tool to build molecules

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The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been won by scientists David MacMillan and Benjamin List for developing a "new and ingenious" tool for molecule building.

Goran K Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, centre, and members of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry announce the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Stockholm, Sweden, on Wednesday.(Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to German scientist Benjamin List of the Max Planck Institute and Scotland-born scientist David W.C. MacMillan of Princeton University.

They were cited for their work in developing a new way for building molecules known as "asymmetric organocatalysis."

The winners were announced Wednesday by Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Nobel panel said List and MacMillan in 2000 independently developed a new way of catalysis (the acceleration of a chemical reaction by a catalyst).

Award a 'huge surprise'

"It's already benefiting humankind greatly," Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the Nobel panel, said.

Speaking after the announcement, List said the award was a "huge surprise."

2021 chemistry laureates Benjamin List and David MacMillan have developed a new and ingenious tool for molecule building: organocatalysis. Its uses include research into new pharmaceuticals and it has also helped make chemistry greener.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NobelPrize?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NobelPrize</a> <a href="https://t.co/AzGcY569sw">pic.twitter.com/AzGcY569sw</a>

&mdash;@NobelPrize

"I absolutely didn't expect this," he said, noting that he was on vacation in Amsterdam with his family when the call from Sweden came in.

List said he did not initially know that MacMillan was working on the same subject and figured his hunch might just be a "stupid idea" until it worked.

"I did feel that this could be something big," he said.

Prize of almost $1.5M

It is common for several scientists who work in related fields to share the prize. Last year, the chemistry prize went to Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and Jennifer A. Doudna of the United States for developing a gene-editing tool that has revolutionized science by providing a way to alter DNA.

The award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.44 million Cdn). The money comes from a bequest left by the prize's creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

On Monday, the Nobel for medicine was awarded to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries into how the human body perceives temperature and touch.

On Tuesday, the Nobel for physics was split: one half of the prize went to Syukuro Manabe, originally from Japan, and Klaus Hasselmann of Germany for their work in developing forecast models of Earth's climate; the second half of the prize went to Giorgio Parisi of Italy for explaining disorder in physical systems.

Over the coming days prizes will be awarded in the fields of literature, peace and economics.

With files from CBC News

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