Week 12 Mega Chemist Challenge Solution

Those of you who have read this blog for a while may have seen last weeks Mega Chemist Challenge photo before. I had forgotten that I had used this specific picture when talking about ESPCA conference in Brazil last year, and worse, all of their names were given! Fortunately I wrote that piece last September before I was really writing much, so hopefully it did not give the game away too much.

The three chemists pictured (front to back) in this weeks Mega Chemist Challenge are Ei-ichi Negishi, Ada Yonath, and Richard Schrock, and have all received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since the turn of the century.

No paper this week I am afraid, just a little narrative on Negishi.

Ei-ichi Negishi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 alongside Akira Suzuki and Richard F. Heck for their contribution to the development of palladium catalysed cross coupling chemistry. Neigishi was born in Japan and completed his undergraduate studies in Tokyo, before moving to the USA in 1960 to undertake his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. It was during his PhD that Negishi met Professor Herbert C. Brown, a man whom he greatly admired. Negishi said of his future mentor

“Brown will change the whole world of organic chemistry.

This was certainly the case. Brown was awarded the Nobel prize himself in 1979 for his development and application of boron containing compounds in organic synthesis.

After Negishi completed his post-doctoral research under the supervision of Brown, he began his independent career at Syracuse University where he gained tenure.  Negishi subsequently moved to Purdue University where he now holds the position of the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, a fitting memorial to his inspiration and mentor.

Palladium catalysed cross coupling, for which Negishi was awarded the Nobel Prize, has revolutionised synthetic organic chemistry over the last 30 years and is now ubiquitous in total synthesis and medicinal chemistry, and is still the focus of a huge array of new methodologies. Heck, Suzuki (who also worked as a post-doc with Brown) and Negishi were awarded the nobel prize for their contributions, though several others contributed significantly to field. Kenkichi Sonogashira and John Kenneth Stille (who died in 1989), both made large contributions to the field, and have named reactions of their own. Other names worth a mention are Tsutomu Mizoroki (the Heck reaction is actually the Mizoroki-Heck reaction), David Milstein (Stille’s post-doc), and Norio Miyaura (Suzuki’s post-doc).

Negishi himself is an interesting character. I first saw him speak in 2009 (I think, it was before the nobel prize anyway) at a conference in Bristol, where after his lecture he took out his camera and took pictures of the audience – very amusing. Two years later, post-Nobel Prize, I came across Negishi again. This time it was at the inaugural ESPCA conference in Brazil, where he was one of the keynote speakers. Negishi showed great respect for all the speakers, attending all of the lectures (even though some were really terrible), and engaging with participants, both at the conference and at the hotel.  He must have posed for a hundred photographs every day. Interestingly, I sat with his wife during one lecture, and she was of course very proud of him, though I got the feeling it must be hard to be married to someone who is dedicated enough, and brilliant enough at what they do, to win the Nobel Prize.

Anyway, we synthetic chemists should continue to revel in the glory of 2010’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I think it may be a while before it comes the way of synthesis again.

This nice little piece “Chemistry Nobel honors reactions used to make biomolecules” discusses the impact of Pd catalysed cross coupling reactions.


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