Thursday, October 06, 2005

2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2005 Nobel prize in chemistry has just been announced for work on metathesis reactions (to sound extremely knowlegable, pronounce it me-THAA-thiss-iss with the last two syllables pronounced like you would say 'thistle'). Wiki has a good intro to the subject, assuming you have had about 5 years of uni chemistry.
Basically, molecules are built using the basic building blocks of the universe, atoms, by sticking them together in various ways. There are lots of rules about which atoms stick to which others and how many connections each atom can have, but at a basic level you can imagine atoms as being like lego blocks with molecules being a bunch of them stuck together (in a very precise way!). Breaking molecules apart and having the same atoms rejoin in another, controlled, fashion is extremely difficult, especially for organic compounds which can have a mindbogglingly high number of possible permutations. The whole of biology at the DNA and cellular level hinges on controlling which bonds are broken and remade, so coming up with a new way of doing these sorts of reactions is a big deal. The Nobel was given to acknowledge the invention/development of a way of breaking and re-making carbon-carbon double bonds, a very useful and important type of chemical bond.
The Nobel was given to 3 people, the first was the guy that came up with a way of doing it at all, the second was a guy that took the results of the first guy and made enough modifications to make it practical i.e. you could expose it to air without blowing yourself up, and the 3rd guy took it from the lab to the production scale. All up, a very nice spread between the pure and the applied. Conratulations to the recipients.


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