2000 Nobel Prize Winners

Alan Heeger, Alan G. MacDiarmid, Hideki Shirakawa

Alan Heeger

Born January 22, 1936 in Sioux City, IA

University of California, Santa Barbara when awarded the Nobel Prize

Studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of California, Berkeley

Field of study: Physical Chemistry


His father died when he was nine years old

He has a wife and 2 sons, one being a neuroscientist and the other a immunologist.

Heeger also won the Balzan prize in 1995 for science of Non-biological matter.

He was 64 at the time when he won the Nobel Prize.

Alan G. MacDiarmid

Born: 14 April 1927, Masterton, New Zealand

Died: 7 February 2007, Drexel Hill, PA, USA

Affiliation at the time of the award: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Field: physical chemistry

Other facts: Came from a poor family, interested in chemistry since 10 years old

He was born a kiwi and died a kiwi (New Zealander) but was also a naturalized United States citizen.

Hideki Shirakawa

Born August 20, 1936 in Tokyo, Japan

Studied at Tokyo Institute of Technology

University of Tsukuba, Japan when awarded Nobel prize

Field of study: Chemical Engineering

Fun fact: He is related to Naoko Takahashi, the women's marathon gold medalist of the 2000 Summer Olympics. He has 4 other siblings. His father was a military doctor and his mother was the daughter of a chief priest of a Buddhist temple.


Plastics are polymers, or molecules formed by many identical units bound to each other. Polymers cannot conduct electricity unless they “imitate” a metal. Metals contain free moving electrons, while polymers contain electrons that are bound to a specific molecule which does not allow for an electrical current. Hedaki realized one day in the lab that a certain type a of polymer, called polyacetylene began to shine like a metal after he accidentally added one thousand times the catalyst (a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction) and then asked himself the question, “if the plastic shines like a metal, can it conduct electricity too?”

What they did

The answer was no, and in the mid 1970’s, the three scientists began conducting experiments to modify the plastic so that it could conduct electricity. The polymers were manipulated to conduct electricity by adding and removing different electrons from the molecules using iodine vapor (illustrated below). The plastic then became 10 million times more conductive after doing this, comparable to the metal copper. The plastic was finally able to conduct electricity. By removing electrons in the polymer, electrons had additional space to move from one molecule from one to another, which creates an electrical current.

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Reasons it is important

These men won because plastic was not seen as a conductor until they demonstrated it. Conductive plastics have many practical uses such as making computer screen shields, light emitting diodes (a large component of what makes up circuits in computers), solar cells, and displays in cell phones or small television screens. Research in conductive plastics is also beneficial to molecular electronics. With conductive polymers, we will be able to eventually make transistors and other electronic components that are much smaller and faster. This would dramatically decrease the size of computing devices. The development of these conductive plastics will change the world as we know it.