On 6 October 2021, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science announced that Benjamin List (German) and David W.C. MacMillan (British) are the 2021 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis. These new tools for building molecules can be used to make medicines, plastics, perfumes, and flavours in a more environmentally friendly way.
In 2000, Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan, independently from each other, discovered a new way to produce asymmetric molecules – when two versions of chemicals can form, which are each other’s mirror image – through small organic molecules. It is used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions. Before their findings, only metals (often including toxic and rare metals) and enzymes were known as the two types of catalysts available. Asymmetric catalysis is precise, fast, green, and cost-effective. It is being used widely today, especially to produce pharmaceuticals.
Despite the impressive development of organocatalysis since 2000, Benjamin List and David MacMillan have remained leaders in the field. Benjamin List is currently Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung (Germany) and David W.C. MacMillan is currently Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University (US).
More information is available on the official Nobel Prize website.