Cross coupling: also angry British sex (har har)

The Chemistry Nobel was announced today, going to none other than (and I’m probably mixing up the order): Heck, Suzuki, and Negishi for their work on cross coupling reactions.

Cross coupling reactions are actually quite near and dear to my heart thesis. I must have run those reactions (the Suzuki Reaction in particular) at least a dozen times in the past year alone. Essentially they use palladium as an assisting molecule to bond two carbons together, which is normally not an easy task. Like a good party host, palldium basically swoops in, grabs Carbon A and Carbon B, says “Hey, have you guys met…you’ll get along famously!”, and then swoops out to do it again. It’s used all over the place now, from making electronic molecules (see: my research) and pharmaceutical compounds. So two thumbs up from me!

But more interesting is how this choice highlights some of the quirks of the Nobel process. It’s interesting to note that the chemistry community has expected this award for years and years, and frankly I’m surprised it took so long. So why did it? Well, get your tinfoil hats on. It’s conspiracy theory time!

Those three guys were hardly the only ones to figure out cross coupling reactions. Sonogashira, Kumada, Stille… they all have their own cross coupling reactions named after them too, never mind the handful of guys who don’t get their own named reaction. And therein lies the rub. The Nobel committee doesn’t award Nobels to more than 3 people. Why? Good question. Probably some hilarious Swedish superstitions. So because the field is so important but so well represented, how to pick who actually gets the prize? Well, in this case, there’s a bit of a theory among some of my lab mates. You, err,… wait till they die, to put it bluntly. Another quirk: the Nobels aren’t awarded posthumously. Stille died in a plane crash in 1989, and Kumada passed away in 2007. Sonogashira’s still alive, so the theory probably isn’t too substantial, but it does make one wonder.

Conspiracy theories aside: go cross coupling! It’s great to see an award for a reaction I’m so familiar with. I think our lab’s plan this week is to all go run simultaneous coupling reactions and give a toast.

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One thought on “Cross coupling: also angry British sex (har har)

  1. I've noticed they award Nobels to synthetic chemists roughly once every five years (Heck 2010, Grubbs 2005, Sharpless 2001, Olah 1994, Corey 1990). So I'm eagerly looking forward to see who the next one is in about 2015!

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