Click-chemistry, a molecular assembly tool, awarded with a Nobel Prize

Like the Nobel Prize in Physics, this year’s promotion in the chemistry category was long overdue by specialists, as the award-winning work has been disseminated in laboratories and has made life easier for many scientists over the past twenty years.

American Carolyn R. Bertozzi, 55 (Stanford University), Danish Morten Meldal, 68 (University of Copenhagen) and American Karl Barry Sharpless, 81 (Scripps Research), are awarded for their invention of the methods of original and now widespread synthesis, click chemistry, for the last two, and bioorthogonal for the eighth woman to receive this prestigious medal in this discipline. Barry Sharpless is the second chemist, after the British Frederick Sanger, to receive two Nobel Prizes in chemistry; the first was awarded to him in 2001 for selective synthesis methods.

Read also: 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Alain Aspect of France, American and Austrian for their work on the quantum revolution

“Sharpless’s invented reaction is fantastic and it’s a brilliant idea, but it’s also a good marketing move with this name – chemistry-click – that speaks to everyone, even non-chemists.”says Jean-Fran├žois Nierengarten, CNRS research director at the Molecular Materials Chemistry Laboratory in Strasbourg.

K. Barry Sharpless, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla (USA), in October 2001.

In fact, the name sums up all the salt of the method. If the art of chemistry is to assemble molecules, it is not always easy, and the technique developed independently by Barry Sharpless and Morten Meldal in 2002 allows to assemble together almost any molecular block or fragment. Making large chains of atoms, adding a luminescent part, creating molecules with more branches … become tasks accessible to the greatest number of banks.

The winners have in fact invented a sort of Lego: to assemble two different molecules, a “pin” is added to one block and a “hole” to the other so that they fit together. In fact, chemists speak of a pin and a hole of alkyne, two carbon atoms linked by a triple bond as in acetylene, and of azide, three nitrogen linked together.

A first article in 2001

Then, in a “click”, these two parts bind together allowing the assembly of what you want, with a ring of three nitrogen atoms and two carbon atoms in the center. Easy? Only, if a third element is not added, the result is quite variable and unwanted products are obtained. Barry Sharpless and Morten Meldal found that adding copper produced exactly the intended product and only this product.

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