Congratulations to Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2010 goes to Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for giving people a reason to care about palladium. OK, it might not be the only reason-- I'm not actually sure what palladium is used for other than organic synthesis and cold fusion-- but it's the context in which I'm most likely to hear the element mentioned.

I don't pay that much attention to the Chemistry prize, so my reaction to this was mild surprise that it hadn't already won. Palladium catalyzed reactions turn up often enough when people are talking about making organic molecules for some reason or another that it seems like a really obvious winner, but it didn't turn up in the betting pool.

This basically taps out my knowledge of the subject-- I have no idea of the history of the reaction in question, or if these three are the appropriate winners or not. That's what we have blog comments for, though, so if you have relevant knowledge, feel free to enlighten me.

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I have no idea of the history of the reaction in question, or if these three are the appropriate winners or not.

The only question I would have is whether Stille or Soganashira should have been in the mix somewhere. However, 1) ISTR that the Nobel is limited to be shared by three, and 2) I don't know if Stille or Soganashira are even still alive.

I think Heck and Suzuki are obvious choices, and the only question is about the third. I'm delighted that Negishi got it, though.

BTW, stupid Nobel trivia - did you know that Suzuki and Negishi were both post-docs (I think at the same time) with the late Nobel Lauriate HC Brown?


I thought Stille and Sonogashira were both dead, but I can't find any info about them now. I would be surprised if Negishi got it over either of these two.

Mizoroki (of the Mizoroki-Heck reaction as some call it) died a long time ago, and he should have gotten it with Heck. But they needed this prize before everyone passed on.

The funny thing is that Heck is out of chemistry (retired in 1989!) since he couldn't find funding. So it goes.

Always embarrassing if you have to look up a Nobel laureate in your field (and even more when you realize you've used that reaction in grad school).

About the Nobel Prizes
Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Each prize consists of a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award

Pablo: Stille died in a plane crash in the 80s. I believe Sonogashira is still alive; he and others (e.g., Kumada, Tsuji, Trost) were probably considered for the award, though 3 is the max number that can receive it. At the Nobel press conference, they "toasted" these other contributors to the field.

Chad: This award is wayyy overdue, and well-deserved. Organometallic chemists have been scratching their heads as to why the award didn't come sooner. You would be hard-pressed to find a drug scaffold that couldn't be made using a Suzuki, Heck, or Negishi coupling step (that may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight). A quick search of the American Chemical Society journals for the words "Suzuki coupling" turns up 22893 results; keep in mind that the reaction was only invented in 1979!

On a last note, we can't forget the role of palladium in Iron Man II. Now palladium is both award-winning, and featured in a major motion picture.

This award is way overdue. Palladium-catalyzed coupling reactions became a mainstay of synthetic organic chemistry back in the 1990's. I've run a few hundred of them myself. When planning to make a complicated molecule, this is one of the first synthetic tools that we chemists think of. The reactions are useful not only for medicinal chemistry, but also to make compounds used in material science (example: dyes for experimental solar cells).

Derek Lowe, of the excellent blog "In the Pipeline" (about medicinal chemistry and organic synthesis), summarized the reason for the award in a very creative way for outsiders:

For non-chemists, the reason these things are so well used is that carbon-carbon bonds are both the backbone of organic molecules, and a pain in the rear to make and break. They're pretty solid, but not so solid that they can't be worked with under special conditions, which is why they're so useful for both living systems and for synthetic chemists. A carbon framework is like solid steel construction: very durable and hard to destroy, but if you know how to weld or rivet you can make one yourself. These palladium reactions are the equivalent of riveting; using them, we can stick whole carbon units together as if we were using power tools.

Also, chemists are thrilled to see the Chemistry Prize given to actual chemists, rather than molecular biologists.

By Richard Blaine (not verified) on 07 Oct 2010 #permalink

When you take an organometallic chemistry class, these are basically the first types of reactions you cover, and then Schrock and Grubbs metathesis reactions.

-for some reason or another that it seems like a really obvious winner, but it didn't turn up in the betting pool.

Seems the chemists (including myself) did not read your Nobel post. We have been predicting this for years; in my own post I called it a bleedingly easy prediction. It was completely unsurprising and overdue for most of us.

I like food. I'm in a goofy mood. You are good, so do what you should.

By Me Cody You Shack (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

They deserved this and I would like to congratulate all of them for their great eforts for the mendkind and which is going to be very helpfull..
This reactions are we performed each and every day in our lab and yes, I would like to do such kind of innovation in my life.

By Mohammad Salim (not verified) on 10 Jan 2011 #permalink

Am I petty for thinking that the chemistry is mediocre, that the Nobel committee just decided that it was their time and they are less deserving than some other scientists??? (Sam Danishefshy comes to mind)

Am I wrong for saying the organic chemistry applications of this chemistry is the most important part?