Nobel Prize in Chemistry Is Awarded to 3 Scientists for Using Evolution in Design of Molecules

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Gregory P. Winter for their work in evolutionary science.


Three scientists shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for tapping the power of evolutionary biology to design molecules with a range of practical uses. Those include new drugs, more efficient and less toxic reactions in the manufacture of chemicals and plant-derived fuels to replace oil, gas and coal extracted from the ground.

Half of the prize and the accompanying $1 million went to Frances H. Arnold, a professor of chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. She is only the fifth woman to win a chemistry Nobel and the first since 2009.

The other half of the prize is shared by George P. Smith, an emeritus professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, and Gregory P. Winter, a biochemist at the M.R.C. Laboratory of Molecular Biology in England.

Dr. Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Dr. Smith developed a method, known as phage display, in which a virus that infects bacteria can be used to evolve new proteins. Dr. Winter has used phage display to produce new pharmaceuticals.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the scientists had managed to harness the power of evolution in test tubes. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to medical treatments. Phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and even cure metastatic cancer.

“This year’s Nobel Laureates in chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles — genetic change and selection — to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems,” the academy said in documents explaining the prizes.

Dr. Arnold’s work, which has been utilized to create sustainable biofuels, is “contributing to a greener world,” the academy added.

Dr. Smith’s development of phage display to link proteins to genes was described by the academy as “brilliant in its simplicity.” Dr. Winter was one of the leaders in using phage display to develop new biomolecules, including disease-blocking antibodies.


Why is the Nobel prize in chemistry given for things that are not chemistry?

THIS year’s Nobel prize in chemistry was awarded to three researchers who helped to discover how cells repair damaged DNA. It is unquestionably important work—without such repair mechanisms, complex life would be impossible. But those watching the announcement might be forgiven for wondering: doesn’t that seem more like biology than chemistry? This is not the first time: five of the past ten chemistry prizes have been awarded for research that seems closer to biology than to chemistry. Fred Sanger, the only person to have won a chemistry Nobel twice, received both his awards for biological research, once for work on the structure of proteins, and once for developing a method of DNA synthesis. The other two science prizes—for medicine and physics—stick much more closely to their remits. All that has led to grumbles from chemists, and jokes by other scientists at their expense. What is going on?

The philosophically bloody-minded can argue that categories of science are just meaningless human constructions anyway. Nature does not distinguish between physics or chemistry or biology. The Greek philosopher Democritus was basically right: when you boil the universe down to its essence there is nothing but atoms and the void. On that interpretation, any attempts to categorise science are bound to be imperfect—or perhaps all science prizes are really physics prizes in disguise. A more positive take on the same argument is that the diversity of the chemistry prizes reflects the fact that chemistry is found everywhere—what is life, after all, but a bunch of self-replicating chemicals?

A less high-minded answer is that the Nobel prizes reflect the wishes of their founder, Alfred Nobel. The prize categories were laid down in his will in 1895, at a time when the intellectual landscape looked very different. Biology was in its infancy, and so no award was established. These days, biology is the perhaps the most prominent of all the sciences. But the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which runs the prizes, must respect Nobel’s will, and thus has its hands tied. The chemistry prize seems to have become a way to honour the best non-medical biological research while still respecting the letter of Nobel’s wishes. Besides, the absence of a biology prize is hardly the only feature that looks odd to modern eyes. The Nobels do not honour mathematics, the language of the sciences (a separate prize, the Fields Medal, is that discipline’s top award). Only three people can win one, a serious problem in physics, whose advances these days often come from giant collaborative projects, such as the Large Hadron Collider, which are staffed by hundreds or thousands of scientists. The dead are not eligible, which is one reason Rosalind Franklin was not honoured alongside Francis Crick and James Watson for discovering the structure of DNA.

Finally, Nobel himself was a chemist. He made the fortune from which the prizes are endowed from dynamite, a powerful and relatively safe explosive. That made him a controversial figure: an obituary published (prematurely) by a French newspaper in 1888 said “the merchant of death is dead”, and that Nobel had become rich by “finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before”. Concerned by how he would be perceived after his death, he founded the Nobels to try to do something good with his money. That is why he also endowed the peace prize. Having been awarded to, among others, Henry Kissinger, Mother Theresa and—the year after he was elected—Barack Obama, that has proven itself even more controversial than the prize for chemistry.

Researchers discover new form of 12-sided quasicrystal.

A team of researchers working at Germany‘s Martin-Luther-Universität has discovered a new form of a 12-sidded quasicrystal. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes how they accidently created the previously unknown crystalline structured material while investigating interfacing properties between various substances.

Researchers discover new form of 12-sided quasicrystal

Quasicrystals are substances that look a lot like crystals but have one major exception—the  of their structure is non-repeating. They were first discovered in 1982 by Daniel Shechtman—he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for it in 2011. Since that time they have been created in the lab in various ways and have even been found in nature—as part of a meteorite that fell in Russia (which because it was found to have been created by a non-heat related astrophysical process, showed that applying heat wasn’t necessary to create them). In this latest effort the researchers created one using perovskite oxides, potentially extending the number of  that can be created by such .

The team in Germany was investigating the ways perovskite behaved when used as a layer on top of a metal base. After exposure to extremely high temperatures, they noted that the material began to shape into a pattern, which they naturally assumed was a crystal. Upon closer inspection, they found that the 12-sided pattern didn’t repeat itself—the mark of a . The team notes that perovskite oxides are not normally noted for forming into quasicrystals, and in fact, no one really thought it was possible.

The discovery extends the types of quasicrystals that are known to exist, though not all of them have 12 sides of course. Their unusual structures make possible the creation of materials with unusual properties which scientists are just now beginning to find. Finding ways to create them using materials not normally associated with such odd structures may pave the way to a much broader array of end products—now that scientists know that it is possible, the door has been opened to creating all sorts of new materials from perovskite oxide based quasicrystals (now called barium titanate), such as thermal insulators or coatings for electronic components.


The discovery of quasicrystals—crystalline structures that show order while lacking periodicity—forced a paradigm shift in crystallography. Initially limited to intermetallic systems, the observation of quasicrystalline structures has recently expanded to include ‘soft’ quasicrystals in the fields of colloidal and supermolecular chemistry. Here we report an aperiodic oxide that grows as a two-dimensional quasicrystal on a periodic single-element substrate. On a Pt(111) substrate with 3-fold symmetry, the perovskite barium titanate BaTiO3 forms a high-temperature interface-driven structure with 12-fold symmetry. The building blocks of this dodecagonal structure assemble with the theoretically predicted Stampfli–Gähler tiling having a fundamental length-scale of 0.69?nm. This example of interface-driven formation of ultrathin quasicrystals from a typical periodic perovskite oxide potentially extends the quasicrystal concept to a broader range of materials. In addition, it demonstrates that frustration at the interface between two periodic materials can drive a thin film into an aperiodic quasicrystalline phase, as proposed previously. Such structures might also find use as ultrathin buffer layers for the accommodation of large lattice mismatches in conventional epitaxy.


Karplus, Levitt, Warshel win Nobel chemistry prize.

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 ground-breaking 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.” 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 Noble Committee Prize Announcement The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2013 to Martin Karplus (Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA), Michael Levitt (Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA), and Arieh Warshel (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA) “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems” The computer—your Virgil in the world of atoms Chemists used to create models of molecules using plastic balls and sticks. Today, the modelling is carried out in computers. In the 1970s, Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel laid the foundation for the powerful programs that are used to understand and predict chemical processes. Computer models mirroring real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today. Chemical reactions occur at lightning speed. In a fraction of a millisecond, electrons jump from one atomic nucleus to the other. Classical chemistry has a hard time keeping up; it is virtually impossible to experimentally map every little step in a chemical process. Aided by the methods now awarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, scientists let computers unveil chemical processes, such as a catalyst’s purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves. The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton’s classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics. Previously, chemists had to choose to use either or. The strength of classical physics was that calculations were simple and could be used to model really large molecules. Its weakness, it offered no way to simulate chemical reactions. For that purpose, chemists instead had to use quantum physics. But such calculations required enormous computing power and could therefore only be carried out for small molecules. This year’s Nobel Laureates in chemistry took the best from both worlds and devised methods that use both classical and quantum physics. For instance, in simulations of how a drug couples to its target protein in the body, the computer performs quantum theoretical calculations on those atoms in the target protein that interact with the drug. The rest of the large protein is simulated using less demanding classical physics. Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube. Simulations are so realistic that they predict the outcome of traditional experiments.


Grossly warped ‘nanographene’.

Chemists at Boston College and Nagoya University in Japan have synthesized the first example of a new form of carbon, the team reports in the most recent online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry.


The new material consists of multiple identical pieces of grossly warped graphene, each containing exactly 80 carbon atoms joined together in a network of 26 rings, with 30 hydrogen atoms decorating the rim. Because they measure slightly more than a nanometer across, these individual molecules are referred to generically as “nanocarbons,” or more specifically in this case as “grossly warped nanographenes.”

Until recently, scientists had identified only two forms of pure carbon: diamond and graphite. Then in 1985, chemists were stunned by the discovery that carbon atoms could also join together to form hollow balls, known as fullerenes. Since then, scientists have also learned how to make long, ultra-thin, hollow tubes of carbon atoms, known as carbon nanotubes, and large flat single sheets of carbon atoms, known as graphene. The discovery of fullerenes was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996, and the preparation of graphene was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Graphene sheets prefer planar, 2-dimensional geometries as a consequence of the hexagonal, chicken wire-like, arrangements of trigonal carbon atoms comprising their two-dimensional networks. The new form of carbon just reported in Nature Chemistry, however, is wildly distorted from planarity as a consequence of the presence of five 7-membered rings and one 5-membered ring embedded in the hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms.

Odd-membered-ring defects such as these not only distort the sheets of atoms away from planarity, they also alter the physical, optical, and electronic properties of the material, according to one of the principle authors, Lawrence T. Scott, the Jim and Louise Vanderslice and Family Professor of Chemistry at Boston College.

“Our new grossly warped nanographene is dramatically more soluble than a planar nanographene of comparable size,” said Scott, “and the two differ significantly in color, as well. Electrochemical measurements revealed that the planar and the warped nanographenes are equally easily oxidized, but the warped nanographene is more difficult to reduce.”

Graphene has been highly touted as a revolutionary material for nanoscale electronics. By introducing multiple odd-membered ring defects into the graphene lattice, Scott and his collaborators have experimentally demonstrated that the electronic properties of graphene can be modified in a predictable manner through precisely controlled chemical synthesis.



%d bloggers like this: