Three scientists share this year's(2001) Nobel Prize in Chemistry: William S. Knowles, previously at Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Ryoji Noyori, Nagoya University, Chikusa, Nagoya, Japan and K. Barry Sharpless, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA. They were awarded the Prize for their development of catalytic asymmetric synthesis. The Laureates have developed chiral catalysts for two important classes of reactions in organic chemistry: hydrogenations and oxidations. The achievements are of great importance for academic research, for the development of new drugs and materials, and are being used in many industrial syntheses of pharmaceutical products.
This year Nobel Prize in Chemistry concerns the way in which certain chiral molecules can be used to speed up and control important chemical reactions. In the early sixties it was not known whether catalytic asymmetric hydrogenation was feasible. The breakthrough came in 1968 when William S. Knowles was working at the Monsanto Company, St. Louis, USA. He discovered that it was possible to use a transition metal to produce a chiral catalyst that could transfer chirality to a non-chiral substrate and get a chiral product.
This development has been led by another of this year's Laureates in chemistry, Ryoji Noyori. The Japanese scientist Ryoji Noyori has carried out extensive research and developed better general catalysts for hydrogenation. Alongside the advances in chirally catalysed hydrogenation reactions, Barry Sharpless has developed corresponding chiral catalysts for other important reactions, oxidations. These achievements are of great importance for the development of new drugs and materials.