Americans Carolyn Bertozzi and Barry Sharpless, together with Denmark’s Morten Meldal, have been honoured “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.”
“This year’s Prize in Chemistry deals with not overcomplicating matters, instead working with what is easy and simple. Functional molecules can be built even by taking a straightforward route,” Johan Åqvist, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said in a press release.
The award marks the second Nobel for 81-year-old Sharpless, who won the chemistry Nobel in 2001 and who in around 2000 coined the concept of “click chemistry”, a form of simple and reliable chemistry, where reactions occur quickly and unwanted by-products are avoided.
On the back of Sharpless’ original idea, Morten Meldal, a professor at Copenhagen University, and Sharpless then independently came up with “copper catalysed azide-alkyne cycloaddition“, an elegant and efficient chemical reaction that has since become the foundation of much click chemistry, used in making pharmaceuticals and analysing DNA.
Bertozzi then took click chemistry to a new dimension and started using it in living organisms.
“She developed click reactions that work inside living organisms. Her bioorthogonal reactions take place without disrupting the normal chemistry of the cell,” the jury said.
Meldal, who was born in Denmark in 1954, got his PhD from the Technical University of Denmark.
Last year, the academy honoured Germany’s Benjamin List and US-British dual national David MacMillan for their development of a precise tool for molecular construction known as asymmetric organocatalysis.
On Monday, the medicine prize went to Swedish paleogeneticist Svante Paabo for his discoveries on the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.
Then on Tuesday, physicists Alain Aspect of France, John Clauser of the United States and Austria’s Anton Zeilinger were given the physics prize for developing experimental tools that helped prove quantum entanglement — a phenomenon Albert Einstein dismissed as “spooky action at a distance”.
The chemistry prize will be followed by the highly watched literature and peace prizes, announced on Thursday and Friday respectively.
The peace prize is expected to hold a special significance this year given the Russian invasion of Ukraine.