Trio win Nobel for ‘great art in a test tube’

THREE scientists shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry yesterday for forging a toolkit to manipulate carbon atoms, paving the way for new drugs to fight cancer, HIV, and for the development of revolutionary plastics.

Richard Heck of the United States and Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki of Japan were hailed for producing “great art in a test tube”.

The trio made outstanding contributions in organic chemistry, a field whose basis is carbon, one of the essential atoms of life and also of innumerable industrial synthetics.

“It is important to emphasise the great significance their discoveries have for both academic and industrial research and in the production of fine chemicals – including pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals and high-tech materials – that benefit society,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Through their work, organic chemistry has developed into “an art form, where scientists produce marvellous chemical creations in their test tubes”, it said.

Heck, 79, is a professor at the University of Delaware in the United States; Negishi, 75, also teaches in the United States, at Purdue University in Indiana; Suzuki, 80, is based at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

The trio developed a process known as palladium- catalysed cross coupling, a means of knitting carbon atoms together so that they form a stable “skeleton” for organic molecules.

It has allowed chemists to synthesise compounds to fight colon cancer, the herpes virus and HIV, as well as smarter plastics used in consumer applications, such as ultra-thin computer monitors.


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