Asymmetric Organocatalysis – a game changer

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David MacMillan “for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis”.

IUPAC congratulates the laureates for their achievements.

Read the full release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.


Benjamin List is co-author of the readily available special topic paper “Organocatalysis Emerging as a Technology” published in the IUPAC journal Pure and Applied Chemistry <> (AOP 13 July 2021). This paper is part of a collection reviewing emerging technologies within the IUPAC Top 10 project which showcases the transformative value of Chemistry, informing the general public of the potential of the chemical sciences to foster the well-being of Society and the sustainability of our Planet. Organocatalysis was one technology highlighted in 2019 (See Chem Int Apr 2019 <>). The 2021 Top 10 will be released later this month.

David MacMillan received in 2006 the Thieme-IUPAC Prize, a Prize awarded since 1992 to scientists under 40 whose independent research deals with synthesis in the broadest context of organic chemistry. This includes organometallic chemistry, medicinal and biological chemistry, designed molecules, or materials, which have had a major impact in synthetic organic chemistry. It is awarded every two years and usually presented at the IUPAC International Conference of Organic Synthesis ICOS.


Chemists have always been inspired by nature. A few years back, researchers dreamt of a new kind of catalysts that, like most natural enzymes, would not require the use of expensive metals. “Organocatalysis” was born in the late 1990s and has not stopped growing. According to Paolo Melchiorre, one of the leading experts in the field, organocatalysis was successful because “[It] was quite democratic, everyone could have access to it without needing expensive reagents or a glovebox, which allowed many young researchers to start their independent careers, and quickly assembled a community of international experts that become a great incubator of ideas for catalysis without metals.”

Following the announcement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, Peter Somfai, member of the Nobel Committee, has claimed that this year’s award “is a game changer. Like a new chess piece that is very, very powerful.”


Featured image: by Photographer Alexander Mahmoud

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