They have opened up new fields by making chemistry a kind of "Lego" game: the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday crowned the Dane Morten Meldal, the American Carolyn Bertozzi and her compatriot Barry Sharpless, who achieved the extremely rare feat to win a second Nobel twenty-one years apart.

The trio is rewarded "for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry", used in particular to develop the best pharmaceutical treatments, including against cancer, announced the jury in its decision.

Barry Sharpless, 81, is only the fifth person to win a Nobel twice.

He had already won the chemistry prize in 2001 for his discoveries on the technique of asymmetric catalysis.

The Franco-Polish Marie Curie had been the first at the beginning of the 20th century (physics 1903, chemistry 1911), followed much later by the American Linus Pauling (chemistry 1954 and peace 1962), the American John Bardeen (physics 1956 and 1972) and the Briton Frederick Sanger (chemistry 1958 and 1980).

Two-time winner, based in California, and 58-year-old Dane Morten Meldal, from the University of Copenhagen, are crowned for their pioneering work in "click chemistry", a new form of combining molecules, explained the jury .

The latter is notably used to develop pharmaceutical treatments, map DNA or create new materials.

An eighth woman in chemistry

The American Carolyn Bertozzi, 55, is sacred for her invention of "bioorthogonal" chemistry, a chemical reaction that can be initiated in a living organism, but without disturbing or changing its chemical nature.

“Carolyn Bertozzi has taken click chemistry to a new level,” praised the Nobel jury.

“I am absolutely amazed.

I'm sitting there and I'm having trouble breathing, ”said the winner joined by the organizers.

She becomes the eighth woman to win the chemistry prize, succeeding Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna (2020).

After a very masculine 2021 vintage (12 men and one woman, none for the scientific prizes), the year 2022 had continued on this trend so far, with the Nobels of Swede Svante Päabo in medicine and Alain Aspect (France) , John Clauser (USA) and Anton Zeilinger (Austria) in physics.

Click chemistry, an assembly of bricks

But by the way, what is “click chemistry”?

“You can really see it as a Lego game.

Click chemistry is like putting two Lego bricks together,” Angela Wilson, president of the American Chemical Society, told AFP.

"We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, but their chemistry will change the world," said the specialist.

“Start-ups are beginning to use these technologies, but I think we are only at the beginning of their uses.

I think it will revolutionize everything, from medicine to materials,” she adds.

The Danish winner confided his "great shock" when he received the famous phone call from Stockholm, shortly before the announcement.

“I almost had my legs shaking afterwards,” Morten Meldal told Swedish public radio SR, saying he was “very happy to share this award with these two, because they have really achieved great things in this field. ".

With "new architectures of molecules", their discoveries enable breakthroughs "in materials science, in surface science, in chemistry in general and in the pharmaceutical industry", he underlined.

Last year, the German Benjamin List and the Briton David Macmillan were sacred in chemistry for having invented a new type of catalysts to manufacture new molecules, at lower cost and in a cleaner way.


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