The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Benjamin List of the Max Planck Institute and David WC MacMillan of Princeton University, both of whom are from Scotland.
They were recognised for their work on “asymmetric organocatalysis,” a new method of constructing molecules. Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, revealed the winners on Wednesday.
According to the Nobel committee, Mr List and Mr MacMillan independently devised a new method of catalysis in 2000.
Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a member of the Nobel committee, remarked, “It’s already benefiting humanity enormously.”
Mr List said the prize came as a “big surprise” once it was announced. “I didn’t expect this,” he added, adding that the call from Sweden came when he was on holiday in Amsterdam with his family.
Mr List said he had no knowledge Mr MacMillan was working on the same project at the time and assumed his intuition would be a “dumb idea” until it worked.
“I had a feeling this was going to be something major,” he added.
It is typical for an award to be shared by multiple scientists who operate in relevant subjects. Last year, Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and Jennifer A. Doudna of the United States shared the chemistry prize for creating a gene-editing tool that has transformed research by allowing scientists to alter DNA.
The prize includes a gold medal and a cash prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.14 million). The award money originates from a legacy left by Alfred Nobel, the prize’s originator, who died in 1895.
The Nobel Committee awarded Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian the prize in physiology or medicine on Monday for their research into how the human body detects temperature and touch.
The Nobel Prize in Physics was handed on Tuesday to three scientists whose work helped to explain and anticipate complex natural phenomena, including climate change, by finding order in what appeared to be chaos.
Prizes will be given out in the next days for excellent work in the disciplines of literature, peace, and economics.