Two scientists have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on building molecules that are mirror images of one another.
The winners, German-born Benjamin List and British David MacMillan, were announced at a ceremony in Stockholm.
Their chemical toolkit has been used to develop new drugs and molecules capable of capturing light in solar cells.
The winners will split a prize pool of ten million Swedish crowns (£842,611).
List and MacMillan’s work has made it much easier to create asymmetric molecules, which are chemicals that exist in two versions, one of which is a mirror image of the other.
Chemists frequently want one of these mirror images, especially when producing medicines, but finding efficient methods for doing so has been difficult.
According to the Nobel Committee, the work “has taken molecular construction to an entirely new level.”
Prof Peter Somfai of Sweden’s Lund University, a committee member, called the research a “game-changer,” adding, “We have a new tool in organic chemistry, and this is of the greatest benefit to humanity.”
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist, established the prizes in his will, which was written a year before his death in 1896.
Since its inception in 1901, the chemistry prize has been awarded to a total of 187 people.
Only seven of these laureates were female. Frederick Sanger, a British biochemist, won the prize twice, in 1958 and 1980.
The United States has the most chemistry Nobel laureates, with 72 winners. Germany and the United Kingdom tie for second place with 34 laureates each.
Previous winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
2020 – Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna received the award for developing the tools to edit DNA.
2019 – John B Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino share the prize for their work on lithium-ion batteries.
2018 – Discoveries about enzymes earned Frances Arnold, George P Smith and Gregory Winter the prize
2017 – Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson were awarded the prize for improving images of biological molecules
2016 – Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa shared the prize for the making machines on a molecular scale.
2015 – Discoveries in DNA repair earned Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar the award.