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Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded 114

An anonymous reader writes "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2005 has been jointly awarded to Robert H. Grubbs (California Institute of Technology), Richard R. Schrock (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Yves Chauvin (Institut Français du Pétrole) for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis." Advanced [PDF] and supplementary [PDF] information is also available from the Nobel Prize site.
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Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded

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  • From TFA: This year's Nobel Prize Laureates in chemistry have made metathesis into one of organic chemistry's most important reactions. Fantastic opportunities have been created for producing many new molecules - pharmaceuticals, for example. Imagination will soon be the only limit to what molecules can be built!

    So does that mean that we can build long chain carbon molecules like, say, gasoline, out of other organic material like, say, chicken shit? 'Cause that's what I'm imagining.

    • Re:Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

      by thc69 ( 98798 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:02PM (#13723315) Homepage Journal
      Well, we can already make diesel out of nearly any kind of oil extracted from nearly any biological material...
    • Re:Fuel? (Score:4, Informative)

      by metternich ( 888601 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:04PM (#13723333)
      Synthetic Oil has been around for a long time. The Germans made oil from coal in WWII as did the South Africans under the Aparthaid Sanctions. (The Chinese are now starting to use this techlonogy as well.) I don't if this new method will help with this, but if it could be done at a large scale I imagine it would.
      • Re:Fuel? (Score:3, Informative)

        by thebdj ( 768618 )
        this new method

        Remember this is the nobel prize we are talking about. These are not necessarily new methods, which is something people have repeatedly forgotten over the last few days of science award posts. Many of these discoveries have been done over time, and in fact started work in the '70s or earlier and may have been finalized in the late 80s or early 90s. Nobel Prizes do not have to be given to you the year you create some new and wonderful thing, and most often this is not the case. Think of
      • Re:Fuel? (Score:4, Informative)

        by suchire ( 638146 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:29PM (#13723532)
        Not only is this a new method, but it isn't really all that practical for the synthesis of fuels. You can't run this reaction with just substrates and the Grubb's catalyst; you have to have solvents, which cost money. The catalysts have a finite lifetime and turnover, so you also have to replace those. That's not really very cost effective, in the end, compared to simply adapting technologies to use the substrates as fuel directly.
      • Re:Fuel? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by twiddlingbits ( 707452 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @05:11PM (#13725087)
        That's the Fischer-Tropsch process to take coal and convert/refine into high octane gasoline. It was invented in Germany in the 1920's. Fischer was awarded the Nobel in Chemistry (1902) but not for for this idea. South Afica makes most of thier gasoline this way still since they adopted the process when embargoed in the 1980s for Apartheid. SA has lots of coal but not much oil. Sasol and Shell are using the process today to make gasoline from coal in SA and from natural gas in Malaysia. It's quite a good process, very scalable to industrial use. Why we don't use it in the USA I don't know as we also have plenty of coal.
    • So does that mean that we can build long chain carbon molecules like, say, gasoline, out of other organic material like, say, chicken shit? 'Cause that's what I'm imagining.
      Maybe, but I'm willing to bet that the energy consumed in making such a molecule will be more than the energy derived from burning said molecule. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of synthesizing gasoline.
      • Re:Fuel? (Score:1, Insightful)

        by jimbolauski ( 882977 )
        I doubt even gasoline would live up to those standards the energy to pump it out of the ground transport it to a refinary, transport to the gas station and pump it into your car. The more pertitant question would be can it be done cheaply enough to cost less than gas and the awnser is no. Synthic oil costs more than regular because it costs more to produce.
  • Grubbs is great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rgmoore ( 133276 ) * <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:01PM (#13723302) Homepage

    I took a class (Ch41, Chemistry of Covalent Compounds) from Professor Grubbs, and he is an excellent teacher as well as a great scientist. He can also take a joke. The following was published in Nothing, an unofficial humor paper published by a couple of bored Techers, and based by a standard lecture that Grubbs gave to every Organic Chemistry class before their first test.

    Caltech Professor Lashes Out Against High Energy Reaction

    In a remarkable demonstration of unbridled passion, Caltech professor Rober Brubbs yesterday lashed out against a high energy reaction--namely, one which includes the formation of a quintuply-bonded carbon. Provoked to a fever pitch by the prospect of dsp3 hybridization in a first period species, he opined: "This reaction doesn't have a chance in hell of happening." He proceeded to characterize quintuply-bonded carbons as "bad", "no good", "undesirable", and "a damned silly notion." After his oration Professor Gurbbs nonchalantly continued with the lecture.

    Earlier this mornin, students and other various members of the Caltech and Pasadena communities picketed Grubbs' office to demand retraction of his libelous comments. At the protest, Jennifer O'Leary, spokeswoman for the Quintuply-Bonded Carbon Anti-Defamation League, characterized Grubbs's statement as "shocking" and vowed, "He hasn't heard the last of us. High-energy reaction have just as much a chance of happening as any other. Grubbs's evil exergonocentrist demagoguery demands retraction." Nothing has also received reports from reliable sources that Grubbs has received death threats from both the Brotherhood for Hybridization Freedom and the Carbonic Liberation Front, left-wing propentavalent reactionist groups.

    In a response to the same event, the Coalition for Traditional Carbon Valence made public this statement: "We applaud Professor Grubbs for his courageous stand against the poison of quintuple bonds."

    Professor Grubbs was unavailable for comment after the lecture as his office refused to return phone calls.

    Caltech Security stated that in order to maintain a suitable atmosphere for study and research it would investigate the matter to the fullest extent of its capabilities.

    (Information in this story gathered by reporters on fat expense account.)

    • Pisses me off, I just left 7 months ago...I imagine I'm missing some great Chem department parties.
    • It's been a LOOOONG time since I took my chemistry class, so I can't seem to figure out exactly what you are talking about. What is quintuply-bonded carbon? Is this one of those jokes like dihydrogen monoxide [dhmo.org]?
      • Re:Grubbs is great (Score:4, Informative)

        by rgmoore ( 133276 ) * <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @03:05PM (#13724194) Homepage
        What is quintuply-bonded carbon? Is this one of those jokes like dihydrogen monoxide?

        Nope. Carbon can only form 4 bonds at a time. During the course of a reaction, there may be short-lived meta-stable carbon species with only 3 bonds, or reactive intermediates (i.e. unstable things that are a transition state between two more stable forms) that have 3 bonds plus one bond that's half made and one bond that's half broken, but there aren't any forms with a full 5 bonds. Undergraduates taking their first Organic test, though, are apt to draw such quintuply bonded carbons and thus get answers wrong on their tests.

        Prof. Grubbs always warns his students not to make that mistake before their first test, and even goes into a mini-rant on the topic much like the one in the article. I wouldn't be surprised if the "This reaction doesn't have a chance in hell of happening" were a direct quote. The rant is very memorable, and I'm sure that everyone who took Organic from him would remember it. Despite this, many students will go on to make exactly the mistake that he warned them against, which I assume is the reason that he's so vehement about it.

        • It's been found that carbon can, however, be pseudo-hypervalent via a three-center two-electron bond. It's nearly equivalent to having hypervalent carbon, since the molecule becomes symmetric. Carbonium-carbenium chemistry is really interesting...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I second that. I am the original submitter and also an undergrad at Caltech.

      Funniest thing in that Ch 41a class was when he was demonstrating some reactions. He mixed H2 and O2 together and threw a catalyst and a spark in there. It was the loudest sound ever to resonate the lecture hall. Then he got another bottle and threw still more. He did it yet a third time, and this time, I wised up and ran from my front row seat to the back of the auditorium.

      Great guy.
    • WTF are you talking about? Ch 41 is Organic Chemistry (though if you mean one term of it, I guess it could have a more specific name), and there's no such publication as the Nothing. There's the BFD and the Fishing Quarterly, but that's about it for humorous publications. (Unless you want to include the Tech's comically bad production values...but I digress.) Anyway, what year did you graduate?
      • At the time I was taking the class (1990) the formal title of Ch41 was "Chemistry of Covalent Compounds", though everyone called it Organic Chemistry informally. Nothing was a completely unofficial publication put together by Zach Berger and DA Kornreich. They just wrote stuff, photocopied it, and left the copies out where people could find them. Nothing seems to have died when their courseload started to increase; I don't remember it coming out at all by my senior year.

  • by n01 ( 693310 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:05PM (#13723347)
    That's what Yves Chauvin is.

    He wants to live reclusively, and doesn't plan to go to Sweden to receive his medal.

    Source: http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/0,1518,3 78142,00.html [spiegel.de]
    translation: http://babelfish.altavista.com/babelfish/trurl_pag econtent?lp=de_en&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.spiegel.de% 2Fwissenschaft%2Fmensch%2F0%2C1518%2C378142%2C00.h tml [altavista.com]
  • by wernst ( 536414 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:09PM (#13723369) Homepage
    Yes, yes, that's very interesting and all, but what I want to know is who won the Nobel Prize this year for "Attempted Chemistry?"
  • "Metathesis can be compared to a dance in which the couples change partners."

    Whoo hoo! Grubbs, Shrock and Chauvin have done a great service to married SlashDotters.

  • Prizes are for children.

    -- Charles Ives, upon being given, but refusing, the
                                          Pulitzer prize
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:28PM (#13723526)
    They used to have the good habit of giving Nobel Prizes in Chemistry for physical chemistry, clean spectroscopical experiments, nice theories with lots of equations, sophisticated mathematics, quantum theories etc. Many physicists, not olny chemists, magaged to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Not anymore, now smelly, organic chemistry and biochemistry grab everything! Think urine and meat and blood and saliva analyses and other gross things! I am VERY disappointed!
  • by JustNiz ( 692889 )
    >> This represents a great step forward for "green chemistry",

    Wow they must be smart, mine always comes out an icky brown colour.
    • Icky brown?

      Well, was it supposed to be a white powder, white crystals or a very pale yellow goo? We are talking about organic chemistry, after all.
    • Lord Percy: After literally an hour's ceaseless searching, I have succeeded in creating gold, pure gold.

      Blackadder: Are you sure?

      Lord Percy: Yes, my lord. Behold.

      Blackadder: Percy... it's green.

      Lord Percy: That's right, my lord.

      Blackadder: Yes, Percy, I don't want to be pedantic or anything, but the colour of gold is gold. That's why it's *called* gold. What you have discovered, if it has a name, is "green".

      Lord Percy: Oh, Edmund, can it be true, that I hold here in my mortal hand a nugget of purest green?

  • awesome potential (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:29PM (#13723539) Journal
    These are spectacular reactions: they allow for all sorts of neat syntheses if you can just form terminal alkenes, which isn't too hard. The systems aren't horribly abusive to most side-chains so you don't have to spend lots of time (and reduce your yield) protecting everything in sight.

    I think it's interesting how many nobel prizes have been given for work on the C=C bond: Diels-Alder, Wittig, reduction, oxidation... I think that more nobels have been given for x-ray techniques than anything else, but this must be well up there. (Of course that depends on how broadly you classify your groupings.)

    But this particular synthesis is already producing some amazing results in bioactive materials, and it should be a strong industrial technique, given its apparent robustness. Back when I was doing organic chemistry, I was trying to make a weird cyclopropene using a synthesis that was multi-step and very low yield. I wish I'd read about this.

    • I would personally like to shake your hand, if only I could. I had to scroll down almost to the bottom to do it, but at least I managed to find one non-idiotic post on this topic. Ironic, isn't it, that so many Nobel winners are Americans?
      • Americans produce more stuff than anyone else. That means pollution, noise, and trash, as well as brilliant chemistry. Unfortunately, in the last twenty or so years, we seem to be doing a lot better on the pollution, noise, and idiotic comments side than the superb inventions side...
      • Re:awesome potential (Score:3, Informative)

        by k98sven ( 324383 )
        Ironic, isn't it, that so many Nobel winners are Americans?

        Surely you're joking?

        The USA has about 200 (give or take) laureates (counted as ones at US universities). And a population of 295 million. 0.67 per million.

        Switzerland: 28 and 7.5 million population : 3.7 per million.
        Sweden: 29 and 9 million. 3.2 per million.
        Norway: 11 and 4.5 million. 2.4 per million.
        Austria: 21 and 8 million. 2.6 per million.
        Denmark: 13 and 5.5 million. 2.3 per million.
        Germany: 89 and 82 million 1.1 per million.
        Netherlands: 16 and
        • Call it bias or whatever you want. But the US certainly isn't overrepresented.

          Until there's a Nobel Prize for Creationism and Intelligent Design, that is. We'll be filling our own children's heads with crap as we import our scientists and engineers from elsewhere.

        • You'd have to cross reference this with the funding of those universities...

          In lots of places universities are state funded, so they aren't as wealthy as the ones in the US.
          • You'd have to cross reference this with the funding of those universities... In lots of places universities are state funded, so they aren't as wealthy as the ones in the US.

            The majority of US academic scientists, however, receive significant amounts of money (in many cases, all of their funding) from the government, regardless of whether they work at a private or public university. It's worth pointing out that the US has traditionally (over the last half-century) poured tons of money into basic research,
            • Then I suppose we have to continue to push for more public funding of research over here, despite the government saying that it should be done by the private sector...

              It's amazing that there's still some labs left in Europe really...
    • weird cyclopropene

      Doesn't that ring have a lot of strain on it? No wonder the overall reaction was low-yield. Were you using some sort of host-guest approach?
    • I'm pretty sure you can't make cyclopropenes with metathesis. The thermodynamics of that particular reaction are against you. The 1,4 diene starting material is often unreactive for transition metal catalyzed processes due to catalyst inhibition. Cyclopropenes, at least these days, are best prepared using rhodium(II) catalyzed cyclopropenation of alkynes.
      • I was hoping to use cyclopropenes as the starting materials and do wonderful and exotic things with them, rather than make them. I've made them already, and it sucked. Stupid rhodium catalysts.
  • Good Show (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jim_Callahan ( 831353 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:31PM (#13723552)
    I like Nobel Prizes in Chem. They're usually actually important discoveries, as evidenced by the fact that chemists use them constantly two decades after their formulation. The literature-type prizes, I'm still not so sure about.
  • According to Nobel rules, the prize be be 100% to one person, 50-50% amongst two winners, or 50-25-25% if three. I haven't been able to determine from the news stories which of them gets the 50%... Anyone know? Probably the French guy...
  • by Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:42PM (#13723641) Homepage
    It's interesting that this year the chemistry nobel prize actually goes to chemists this year -- the last two years it went to molecular biologists...
  • that actually shows what they mean by the Dance of chemicals as they change partners.

    Quite nifty, provided you have a flash plug-in.
  • Heros (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    In the end, the work these people do will mean much more than who put a puck in a net, a ball in a basket, or a jaunty tune in the public's ear.

    If mankind has any sort of saviour these days, it's these sort of men: scientists who give us the tools to cure blindness, disease, hunger, and poverty. I'd probably be dead today without technology; the survival rate for near-blind kids was pretty grim just a few centuries ago. Today, thanks to powerful eyeglasses, and later on, laser eye surgury, I've got a normal
    • Hear, hear! Scientists, mathematicians and engineers are the true engines of progress. An army of lawyers, politicians, financiers, athletes, musicians, and artists is not worth one of these individuals in the long run.
      • An army of lawyers, politicians, financiers, athletes, musicians, and artists is not worth one of these individuals in the long run.

        Let's not leave the clergy out of that list.


  • by aphexbrett ( 220057 ) on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @02:55PM (#13724126) Homepage
    "Metathesis can be compared to a dance in which the couples change partners."

    This has to be the worst quote I've ever heard describing Grubbs' catalyst. When I woke up this morning and heard that Grubbs had won the Nobel I wondered what the brief description of his work was going to be, and I honestly have to say I was amazingly disappointed with it. However this is part of a larger problem that I've encountered often especially on this webpage, how do you explain complicated subjects to the uninformed masses? How do you explain detailed chemistry to computer geeks? In some cases a pretty simplistic idea is transferred successfully, but this is the exception rather than the rule. IMO, the comments left about the story tend to further complicate the matter.

    Having use chemistry developed by Grubbs I'll provide a brief description of his remarkable achievements in the field of organic synthesis (one of the serveral fields Grubbs has impacted [Grubbs is however an organometallic / inorganic chemist]). Organic synthesis is the study of building complext molecules from simple starting materials. The "goal" of organic synthesis is to make compounds with biological activity, e.g. new drugs. Many of the target compounds are initially isolated from nature, chemist then try to replicate them in the lab environment. One of the catalysts Grubbs developed allowed for synthesis of a particularly common structural feature (I'm thinking of cyclic structures, there are more, I know) and it opened whole new doors in terms of synthetic routes that one could take to complete a molecule. It was fairly evident in the mid 90s that his work had a huge impact on the synthetic community and it was apparent he would win the nobel, it was just a matter of time.

    • How do you explain detailed chemistry to computer geeks? In some cases a pretty simplistic idea is transferred successfully, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

      Well, you just answered your own question. You start from the basics that are understood by your intended audience and explain using accessible language, but without oversimplification. Each next concept following from the previous you gradually get to explain the topic at hand, like you brilliantly did. If more space/time is available, e
    • They should shave used an analogy like this:

      a conga line moving through a party, with a guy on the end of the line selectively inserting pretty women into his place at the end on the line, and then grabbing their waists and following the chain until another suitable female is found to insert. This continues until all suitable females have been added to the line.

      That at least accurately cartoons the ROMP reaction.
    • "Metathesis can be compared to a dance in which the couples change partners."

      I found this particular description of metathesis to be the most accurate statement. If look at the overall transformation and consider each dancer to be an olefinic carbon, that's exactly what metathesis does. It's probably one of the easiest chemical transformations to explain to non-chemists.
  • I'll bet it was Pedro. Every since he got that truck he's been so damn cocky!


  • TFA says that the word "metathesis" comes from the words "meta" and "thesis", so the reader could easily read the word as met.a.THE.sis (long E and emphasis on 3rd syllable); however, the only pronounciation I have ever heard is me.TaTH.e.sis (short a and emphasis on the 2nd syllable). Just FYI.
  • I just spoke to my chemistry lecturer (University of Otago), after we briefly covered olefin metathesis in our organic course this morning. Apparently he is off to have a meal with Prof Grubbs in Christchurch, who will be giving a talk at Otago on Monday.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern