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10/6/2010
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Carbon Factory In-A-Lab Wins Nobel Prize

The award goes to an international team of researchers that developed a tool for creating carbon-based chemicals in a test tube.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday announced it has awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to three scientists for their breakthroughs in the creation of tools that allow researchers to build carbon-based molecules as complex as those found in nature in a lab.

The prize was awarded to Richard Heck, an American who is professor emeritus at the University of Delaware, Japanese citizen Ei-ichi Negishi, a chemistry professor at Purdue University, and Akira Suzuki, also Japanese, who is professor emeritus at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

"Organic chemistry has allowed man to build on nature's chemistry, making use of carbon's ability to provide a stable skeleton for the function of molecules," the Academy said, in a statement.

The trio of researchers developed a process known as palladium-catalyzed cross coupling, which allows scientist to develop complex chemicals, such as carbon, in a lab environment. Traditional methods for synthesizing chemicals resulted in too many by-products.

"Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling solved that problem and provided chemists with a more precise and efficient tool to work with," the Academy noted in a statement.

"In the Heck reaction, Negishi reaction, and Suzuki reaction, carbon atoms meet on a palladium atom, whereupon their proximity to one another kick starts the chemical reaction," the Academy noted.

Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling is now a firmly established production method in many industries, including electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Heck, who is a native of Springfield, Mass., Negishi, and Suzuki will split a prize from the Academy of about $1.5 million for their work.

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