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Japanese, U.S. Scientists Share Chemistry Nobel for Carbon Link

Chemistry professor Ei-ichi Negishi. Photographer: Frank Polich/Getty Images
Chemistry professor Ei-ichi Negishi. Photographer: Frank Polich/Getty Images

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Two Japanese scientists and an American researcher whose work paved the way for new medicines and plastics won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing tools to synthesize carbon-based molecules found in nature.

Richard F. Heck, 79, of the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, Akira Suzuki, 80, of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, and Ei-Ichi Negishi, 75, of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, will share the 10 million-kronor ($1.5 million) award, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in Stockholm yesterday.

The researchers won for finding “more efficient ways of linking carbon atoms together to build the complex molecules that are improving our everyday lives,” the academy said in a statement. The painkiller naproxen, a generic sold in the U.S. under the brand name Aleve, Merck & Co.’s allergy treatment Singulair and Boscalid, a fungicide made by BASF SE, are some of the chemicals made possible by their work.

The Heck, Suzuki and Negishi reactions, known as palladium-catalyzed cross coupling, allow chemists to join whole molecules at lower temperatures and with less waste than earlier processes, said David Phillips, president of the U.K.’s Royal Society of Chemistry.

“This was just great chemistry,” Joseph Francisco, president of the American Chemical Society, said in a telephone interview. “The award is well deserved. The fundamentals are so widely used; they have increased the toolbox of any chemist.”

‘It Can Happen’

Negishi went to bed after midnight last night in Indiana and was sound asleep when the Nobel call came at 5 a.m. local time. He moved to the U.S. to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960.

“I was dreaming about this prize half a century ago,” he said by phone to the Nobel news conference. “When I came to America and when I encountered several Nobel laureates coming to UPenn in Philadelphia, I realized it’s not a story but it’s a reality, and it can happen to anyone including myself.”

Negishi said his work is only half over, and he plans to use the prize money to fulfill his research. “I’m interested in all organic molecules and synthesizing them in the best possible way,” he said.

He doesn’t own any patents on the cross-coupling technique. “In this way I feel more people feel free to make use of what we come up with,” he said.

Building Blocks

Heck, Suzuki and Negishi worked separately in the 1960s and 1970s to develop reactions using palladium that enabled chemists to use molecules as building blocks for larger structures, according to the Nobel statement.

“This is a fine example of beautiful work done in parallel,” said Francisco, who works at Purdue with Negishi.

Last year’s prize in chemistry went to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, of the U.K.; Thomas A. Steitz, of the United States; and Ada E. Yonath, of Israel, for their work on how the DNA code is translated into life, findings that have been used to fight infectious disease.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. The Nobel Foundation was established in 1900 and the prizes were first handed out the following year.

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Oct. 5 for discovering graphene, a one-atom-thick “wonder material” that may transform electronics, allowing for speedier computers and folding touchscreens.

On Oct. 4, Robert G. Edwards, a British physiologist and pioneer in reproductive medicine, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing in-vitro fertilization.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eva von Schaper in Munich at; Allison Connolly in Frankfurt at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at

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