The 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Awarded for Work on Biological Macromolecules

Nobel Prize Winners

What Did They Do?

Each of these scientists did research on biological macromolecules. Biological macromolecules are the building blocks of the human body. They include fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and nucleic acids (the building blocks of our DNA).

Koichi Tanaka

Born: August 3, 1959, Toyama, Japan

Education: Tohoku University of Japan

Employment During Research: Shimadzu Corporation of Japan

Scientific Field: Soft laser desorption

Fun Facts: Tanaka also won the Keio Medical Science Prize in 2002 as well

Kurt Wüthrich

Born: October 4th, 1938, Aarberg, Switzerland

Education: University of Bern & University of Basel, Switzerland

Employment During Research: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland & Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California

Scientific Field: Chemistry & Biophysics

Fun Facts: Participated in USA Science and Engineering Festival's Lunch with a Laureate where middle and high school students talk with Nobel Prize winning researchers over a brown-bag lunch

John Fenn

Born: June 15, 1917, New York City, New York

Died: December 10, 2010, Richmond, Virginia

Education: Berea College, Yale University

Employment: Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Scientific Field: Physical chemical methodology

Fun Facts: Fenn was 85 years old when awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry

John Fenn and Koichi Tanaka's Contribution

Since macromolecules are so tiny, it is difficult to analyze them in their normal solid form.

John Fenn and Koichi Tanaka discovered methods of transforming these molecules into a more useful form that still keeps their properties intact for studying the molecules. Fenn did this by breaking molecules with strong electric charges and Tanaka did this by firing molecules with a laser.

Below is the machine that Fenn used to transform the molecules.

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These new methods allowed macromolecules to be studied more effectively. As a result, new techniques have been developed to further different fields of science. For example, diseases such as malaria and cancer can be detected much earlier by analyzing their molecules. Dangerous compounds can also be detected during food production and pharmaceutical companies can analyze hundreds of compounds a day (which leads to better medicines).

Wüthrich's Contribution

There are no microscopes powerful enough to see tiny macromolecules. So accurate models of macromolecules could not be developed. Kurt Wüthrich applied the NMR method, which had been used to model crystals, to macromolecules. Using the NMR technique allowed models to finally be made for macromolecules and researchers, for the first time, could actually see them.
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Wüthrich's breakthrough allowed researchers to see macromolecules, and they could now analyze them effectively with Tanaka and Fenn's discoveries. By seeing models of macromolecules in the human body, scientists can understand more about our DNA and genetics. They can also understand how our body's molecules react with other molecules in potential medicine.
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