Nobel chemistry laurel calls prize a dream but confident in value of his work

13:02, October 07, 2010      

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Nobel chemistry prize winner Ei- ichi Negishi (pronounced "H. Na-gE-shE") said Wednesday winning the prize is a dream for him but he is confident of the value of his work.

Winning a Nobel Prize was a "realistic dream," but it was "just a dream," Negishi told a live-broadcast press conference at the Purdue University where he works.

"I would be telling a lie by saying I was not expecting it ( the Nobel Prize) at all," he said. "I must say we have our own confidence in the value of what we have done."

The Japanese national shared the prize with Richard F. Heck, of the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware and Akira Suzuki, of Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan. The three researchers are honored for developing complementary methods to find more efficient ways of linking carbon atoms together to build complex molecules. They will share the 1.5 million U.S. dollar award.

Purdue President France A. Crdova said the university was proud that Negishi and his work were recognized by the Nobel Prize committee.

"Today we celebrate a new hero of science for Purdue, for Indiana and for the world," Crdova said in a live broadcast press conference.

"Ei-ichi Negishi's work in organic molecules is groundbreaking and inspiring, especially in its application for improving medicines and impacting lives. We are very proud that he has been bestowed with this highest honor. We congratulate professor Negishi and celebrate this great accomplishment."

Negishi developed metal-based reactions, called palladium- catalyzed cross-coupling, that allow for easy and efficient synthesis of complex organic compounds. Examples of applications include drug manufacturing, fluorescent marking that has been essential for DNA sequencing and creating materials for thin LED displays.

He discovered catalytic reactions using a number of transition metals that allow various organic compounds to be synthesized widely, efficiently and selectively for use in fields ranging from medicine to materials development. His work has resulted in dramatically reducing the cost of using such metals, like palladium, in the synthesis.

"Catalysts are not lost as they spur a chemical reaction, they are recycled and can be used over and over again," he said. "These transition metals are very expensive, but when they can be used millions to billions of times, it dramatically reduces the cost and makes the mass manufacturing of special, complex materials practical."

Negishi likened the innovation to playing with a LEGO game, altering the building blocks of molecules and using transition metals as catalysts to promote the reactions needed for the synthesis.

"We found catalysts and created reactions that allow complex organic compounds to, in effect, snap together with other compounds to more economically and efficiently build desired materials," he said. "LEGOs can be combined to make things of any shape, size and color, and our reactions make this a possibility for organic compounds."

While talking about his feeling upon hearing the news, Negishi said he was "extremely pleased."

"I have told my wife we should never raise our hope high. This thing could only be a sequence of your own accident work," Negishi said. "So until yesterday, I wasn't raising my hope very high. I was telling my wife that the chance may be one in hundred, that means there are 99 chances that this is not coming."

Negishi began to sob while expressing thanks to his wife, his then-passed mentor Professor Herbert Brown, himself and colleagues, but recovered with smile quickly. He said he has enjoyed "very friendly" working environment in Purdue and will continue to work for several years.

The Nobel Prize was bestowed primarily on the strength of 10 seminal papers published from 1976 to 1978, said Negishi, who came to Purdue in 1966 as a postdoctoral researcher under the late Herbert C. Brown, who won the Nobel Prize in 1979.

Negishi is the third Purdue professor to win a Nobel Prize and one of two of Brown's students to win the prize this year. Co- recipient Suzuki also studied under Brown.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has supported Negishi's work with over 6.5 million U.S. dollars since 1979.

"The methodology developed by these stellar scientists has broad implications for the medical, electronic, and agricultural fields," said NIH Director Francis Collins in a statement. "It has already allowed chemists to synthesize compounds to fight the herpes virus, HIV, and colon cancer."

"Carbon-carbon bonds are like the frame of a house -- you have to get them right for the structure to be functional and useful," said NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg. "By developing more precise and efficient methods for making these bonds, the scientists selected for the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry have created a remarkably powerful tool for synthesizing a wide range of useful chemicals."

Negishi grew up in Japan and received a bachelor's degree in organic chemistry from the University of Tokyo in 1958. He moved to the United States in 1960 to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania as a Fulbright-Smith-Mind scholar, earning a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1963. Negishi went to Syracuse University in 1972, where he was an assistant professor and then an associate professor before returning to Purdue in 1979. He was appointed the H. C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in 1999 and has won various awards.

The Nobel Prizes will be awarded during ceremonies on Dec. 10 in Stockholm, Swede, and Oslo, Norway.

The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm. Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. 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.



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