Nobel Prize 2021: Important Developments in the Industry

Benjamin List and David MacMillan Share Nobel Prize in Chemistr prizey the

Two emeritus professors of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University are sharing the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was awarded this morning (October 6) to Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, Ben Feringa and Bernard L. Feringa for their work in molecular machines. The two CWRU winners are Benjamin F. List , who led the international team that published research in ACS Nano about these “mechanical molecules” last year, and David A. MacMillan , whose pioneering efforts include creating rotaxanes—molecules with ring structures that move along an axle—and catenanes—two interlocked rings connected by a string-like tether.

The Nobel Foundation announced the prize early Monday via live stream from Stockholm, Sweden.

For the past 50 years, chemists have been working to make molecules that can be manipulated in predictable ways to perform specific tasks. The Prize Committee cited three men who created a series of breakthroughs over the last 15 years that advanced this effort by leaps and bounds. These significant advances included the first molecular machine—a molecule with controllable motions—and a “rotaxane” whose ring component can move along a thin axle while temporarily holding onto as much as 100 times its own weight. The committee also recognized work on dyamics molecular switches and rotors, such as those found in some wristwatches and other devices.

The year before List joined CWRU as an associate professor in 2004, he collaborated on research in Angewandte Chemie which was the first report of a rotaxane. “Back then, I called it my ‘baby,'” List recalled. “I just published one article on it and then I was so busy that I had to put it aside.”

Nobel Prize 2021 in Chemistry Awarded to Scientists for Building Molecules with Moveable Parts

Two of the scientists responsible for creating molecular machines, which are molecules with moveable parts, were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In a press conference Monday morning, J. Fraser Stoddart from Northwestern University said that he was honored to receive the award and cited his collaborators as well as those who came before him as being integral to his work. Ben Feringa from the University of Groningen shared half of the prize money and credited those who mentored him early on for providing an open minded environment conducive to scientific progress.

The three men won for their work in molecular machine science, a field within chemistry that focuses on building different kinds of molecules with movable parts. The studies have led to discoveries such as new materials, nanorobots, and systems that can mimic muscle movements.

One of the first steps to building molecular machines came in 1983 when Ben Feringa created a molecule with rotatable bonds. If this bond is switched from one position to another then there is potential for the changing of configurations on the fly. This breakthrough led others in the scientific community to explore other kinds of molecules, including catenanes which are two interlocked rings connected by a string-like tether. When both rings are linked together it’s impossible to disconnect them without breaking something, so they have potential applications in locking mechanisms or molecular machines.