Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel won this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for laying the foundation for the computer models used to understand and predict chemical processes.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their research in the 1970s has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves.
“The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is groundbreaking in that they managed to make Newton’s classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics,” the academy said. “Previously, chemists had to choose to use either/or.”
Chemical reactions occur at lightning speed; electrons jump between atomic nuclei, hidden from the prying eyes of scientists. The 2013 prize winners have made it possible to map the mysterious ways of chemistry by using computers. Detailed knowledge of chemical processes makes it possible to optimize catalysts, drugs and solar cells.
Karplus, a U.S. and Austrian citizen, is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. The academy said Levitt is a British, U.S., and Israeli citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Warshel told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone that he was “extremely happy” to be awakened in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he had won the prize and looks forward to collecting the award in the Swedish capital in December.
“In short what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does,” Warshel said.
Earlier this week, three Americans won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries about how key substances are moved around within cells and the physics award went to British and Belgian scientists whose theories help explain how matter formed after the Big Bang.
The Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded Thursday and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday.
With a file from Reuters
- 104 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded to 162 individuals from 1901-2012. Frederick Sanger won the prize twice. Linus Pauling is the only person to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes, one of which was chemistry in 1954. He was awarded the Peace prize eight years later.
- Only four are women. Two of the four, Marie Curie and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, won unshared Chemistry Prizes.
- Some famous winners include: The Curies were the most successful “Nobel Prize family”. The husband-and-wife partnership of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie were awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. Marie Curie herself won the 1911 chemistry prize. Their daughter Irene Joliot-Curie was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with her husband, Frederic Joliot.
- Adolf Hitler forbade two German winners from receiving the Chemistry prize - Richard Kuhn in 1938 and Adolf Butenandt in 1939.
Sources: Reuters, http://nobelprize.org, Chambers Biographical Dictionary