Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki have won the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry for advances that the jury of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said will allow for the development of new medicines and complex synthetic materials.
AFP - Three scientists shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for forging a toolkit to manipulate carbon atoms, paving the way for new drugs to fight cancer and for 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 Perdue 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 that are used in consumer applications, such as ultra-thin computer monitors.
The discoveries "have had a great impact on academic research, the development of new drugs and materials, and are used in many industrial chemical processes for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and other biologically active compounds," the academy said.
The Nobel has been awarded on four previous occasions for breakthroughs in organic chemistry -- in 1912, 1950, 1979 and 2005.
In the 1960s, Heck laid the groundwork for coupling between carbon atoms by using a catalyser, or chemical to promote the process.
This was finetuned in the 1970s by Negishi, who used a field of compounds known as organohalides, and taken a step further by Suzuki, who found a practical way to carry out the process using so-called organoborons.
Last year, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath won the Chemistry Prize for work on the ribosome, a cellular process that makes proteins, the stuff of life.
This year's Nobel season began Monday with the Medicine Prize, which went to Bob Edwards, the in-vitro fertilisation pioneer who brought the joy of parenthood to millions of infertile couples.
The Physics Prize followed Tuesday, awarded to Russian-born researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their groundbreaking work on graphene, a form of carbon touted as the wonder material of the 21st century.
Speculation has meanwhile been especially rife ahead of the most watched Nobel prizes, Literature and Peace, to be announced on Thursday and Friday.
The Economics Prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 11.
This year's laureates will receive 10 million Swedish kronor (1.49 million dollars, 1.09 million euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.
The Peace Prize will be handed out in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the prizes.
Other Nobel laureates will pick up their prizes in Stockholm on the same day.
Date created : 2010-10-06