Chemistry Nobel Prize 2016

The 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry was jointly awarded today to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard Feringa for their research in supramolecular chemistry, specifically, for the development of molecular machines. These molecular machines use self-assembly, host-guest interactions, and mechanically interlocked molecular architectures to generate nanometer scale mechanical motion in response to an external chemical or physical stimulus.

The supramolecular mechanical structures produced through the efforts of the laureates as well as countless others in the area challenge our understanding of chemical bonding and shed light on nature’s own molecular machines, constantly at work within the cells of our bodies. Supramolecular chemistry is also critically important in chiral gas chromatography! The host-guest interaction between chiral molecules and the functionalized cyclodextrins in a chiral GC stationary phase allows for differential retention of enantiomers resulting in their chromatographic separation.

 

Cyclodextrins are macrocyclic polysaccharides with central cavities of various sizes. They are often used as "hosts" for smaller molecules which enter the cavity.

Cyclodextrins are macrocyclic polysaccharides with central cavities of various sizes. They are often used as “hosts” for smaller molecules which enter the cavity.

I first became fascinated with molecular machines when I presented this Science paper from David Leigh’s research group, himself a former student of Stoddart, at a graduate school journal club. In this groundbreaking work, the group developed a rotaxane based molecular machine that was able to perform synthesis of a small peptide. While it may not be as capable as our own ribosome, evolution has had a ~3 billion year head start! Other machines such a motors, ratchets, and elevators have been reported and the Chemistry Prize Science Background discusses some of these advancements in more depth.

Crystal structure of a rotaxane, a type of supramolecular architecture. The macrocycle is mechanically locked on the "shaft" by bulky end groups.

Crystal structure of a rotaxane, a type of supramolecular architecture. The macrocycle is mechanically locked on the “shaft” by bulky end groups.

Crystal structure of a catenane, a type of mechanically interlocked molecular architecture. The rings are locked together by their own covalent bonds.

Crystal structure of a catenane, a type of mechanically interlocked molecular architecture. The rings are locked together by their own covalent bonds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to the laureates and I’m excited to see where this rich area of research leads us. As scientists, it’s important to retain a sense of curiosity and creativity in our everyday work and Nobel season is a great opportunity to reflect on the fundamental research that has brought chemistry to the level of sophistication we have today.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply