2001 Chemistry Nobel Prize

By: Rachel Radke, Soham Rawal & Nehal Shahanawaz

Who Won?

William S Knowles (1/4 Prize)

Ryoji Noyori (1/4 Prize)

K Barry Sharpless (1/2 Prize)

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William S Knowles

  • Date of Birth: June 1, 1917
  • Place of Birth: Taunton, MA
  • Date of Death: June 13, 2012
  • Place of Death: Chesterfield, MO
  • Education: Boarding school; Harvard University; Columbia University
  • Scientific Field of Study: Industrial Chemistry, Organic Chemistry
  • Interesting Facts: He likes the outdoors; He came from a family primarily interested in business
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Ryoji Noyori

  • Date of Birth: September 3, 1938
  • Place of Birth: Kobe, Japan
  • Education: Kyoto University; Harvard University
  • Place of Work When Awarded the Prize: Nagoya University; Nagoya, Japan
  • Scientific Field of Study: Industrial Chemistry; Organic Chemistry
  • Interesting Facts: In middle school, his father took him to a public conference on the topic of "nylon"; He enjoyed playing "judo", a traditional Japanese sport
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K Barry Sharpless

  • Date of Birth: April 28, 1941
  • Place of Birth: Philadelphia, PA
  • Education: Friends' Central School; Stanford University; Harvard University; Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; Technical University of Munich; Catholic University Louvain, Belgium; Wesleyan University
  • Place of Work When Awarded the Prize: The Scripps Research Institute; La Jolla, CA
  • Scientific Field of Study: Industrial Chemistry, Organic Chemistry
  • Interesting Facts: He lost his vision in one eye after a lab accident while an assistant professor at MIT

What Did They Do?

Important Terms:

  1. Chirality: Handedness; left or right
  2. Enantiomers: Molecules that are mirror images of one another; they cannot be placed on top of one another and give the same molecule
  3. Catalytic Asymmetric Synthesis: Allows chemists to steer reactions towards one of the two symmetrical products

Experiments & Lab Work

  • The researchers studied reactions that, under normal circumstances, produce an equal mixture of two products with symmetrical structures
  • Known as chiral products, these molecules are mirror images of each other, but can have very different properties
  • Sharpless added oxygen to carbon atom which molds to create a wide variety of materials and drugs
  • Knowles, Noyori and Sharpless have been awarded the prize for developing techniques that tailor reactions so that only one of the two chiral molecules is produced
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  • The techniques are now widely used in industry, particularly to manufacture pure pharmaceuticals
  • Sharpless' work was used to create an alcohol called allylic alcohol which is very important to creating other chemicals and materials
  • Hydrogen is added to a reaction which allows one side to be favored instead of the probability of two different results
  • Industrially, an amino acid called L-DOPA does the same thing as the hydrogen in controlling the outcome
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This process created a drug that treats Parkinson's Disease

Why Did They Win?

  • They solved a critical issue because one molecule could be obtained even though there was previously the possibility of two results
  • It is important that drugs have the intended properties or else they will not achieve the desired result
  • In the 1960s, a drug was administered to pregnant women for morning-sickness and instead caused birth defects because the two different mirrored molecules have different properties
  • This process helped to create a drug for Parkinson's Disease
  • There is potential for their findings to create other chemicals and materials