Nobel Prizes

Since 1986, eight Nobel Prizes have been awarded to twelve principal investigators (in bold) for their BES-supported research.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2005 was awarded jointly to three chemists, Richard R. Schrock (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Robert H. Grubbs (California Institute of Technology), and Yves Chauvin (Institut Français du Pétrole Rueil-Malmaison) "for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis," a way to rearrange groups of atoms within molecules that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences likens "to a dance in which the couples change partners." The metathesis reaction involves the breaking of carbon double bonds in ways that cause atom groups to change places, which happens with the assistance of special catalyst molecules. The process is used daily in the chemical, biotechnology, and food industries to make stronger plastics, better drugs, and improved food preservatives. By reducing the number of hazardous byproducts in a chemical reaction, metathesis leads to clean and environmentally friendly production. BES has been a leading Federal supporter of catalytic chemistry, and Dr. Schrock's continuous affiliation with the BES Division of Chemical Sciences dates back to 1979. In addition, Dr. Grubb's work in homogeneous catalysis was supported by BES from 1979 through 1988.

The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2003 was awarded jointly to three physicist, Alexei A. Abrikosov (Argonne National Laboratory), Vitaly L. Ginzburg (P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow), and Anthony J. Leggett (University of Illinois, Urbana) "for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids." Their contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids have yielded deep understanding of physical phenomenon that were once both mysterious and perplexing to the scientific community. Through their efforts, tremendous strides are being made in understanding these processes, leading to the development of new superconducting materials and technologies that have great promise to benefit the entire world. BES has supported Dr. Abrikosov as part of the Materials Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory since 1991, where he has worked extensively on the mechanism of high temperature superconductivity.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1997 was awarded to three biochemists, Paul D. Boyer (University of California at Los Angeles), John E. Walker (Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Cambridge, England), and Jens C. Skou (Aarhus University in Denmark). Drs. Boyer and Walker were cited for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), frequently referred to as the "energy currency" of the cell. Dr. Boyer's work on ATP was supported by BES' Division of Energy Biosciences and its predecessor organizations from 1963 until his retirement in 1993.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1996 was awarded to Richard E. Smalley (Rice University), Robert F. Curl (Rice University), and Sir Harold Kroto (University of Sussex) for their discovery of buckminsterfullerene. The award was given for the discovery of a new form (allotrope) of carbon, buckminsterfullerene, which contains 60 carbon atoms in the shape of a soccer ball. Dr. Smalley was supported by BES' Division of Chemical Sciences for the work that led to the discovery of buckminsterfullerene in 1985, and Dr. Curl has long been supported for his work in infrared spectroscopy. Dr. Curl's role as a spectroscopist was to bring Dr. Kroto, whose interest was in long-chain Cx molecules related to astrophysics, together with Dr. Smalley to do spectroscopy on these type of species. The discovery of a new "buckyball" form of carbon resulted, which started an avalanche of scientific research devoted to fullerenes. For example, it is possible to produce superconducting salts of C60, new three-dimensional polymers, new catalysts, and materials with new electrical and optical properties.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1995 was awarded to Frank Sherwood Rowland (University of California, Irvine), Mario Molina (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Paul Crutzen (Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry) for "work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone." Dr. Rowland had been supported by BES' Division of Chemical Sciences for many years in the area of hot-atom chemistry, such as the chemistry of excited species that commonly were formed as the result of nuclear reactions. Dr. Molina was a postdoctoral fellow in the Rowland laboratory during 1973-1975. As the result of attending an international conference, Dr. Rowland's interest was piqued by measurements of the atmospheric concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's). The inert characteristics of CFCs were well known, but with his intimate knowledge of chlorine (Cl) atom sources, Dr. Rowland reasoned that the molecules could be photolyzed by ultraviolet light to produce atomic chlorine when the CFCs reach the stratosphere by diffusion. The investigations led to the recognition that the photolytically produced Cl atoms could also catalyze the destruction of ozone. The work was published in Nature in 1974. The discovery that CFC's deplete the Earth's protective ozone layer has had widespread environmental implications.

The Nobel Prize in Physics for 1994 was awarded to Clifford G. Shull (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Bertram N. Brockhouse (McMaster University) for "pioneering contributions to the development of neutron scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter." Dr. Shull was a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with support from the Atomic Energy Commission from 1946 through 1955, at which time he went to MIT. He carried out many of the very first experiments using neutron beams during his tenure at ORNL using the graphite reactor. In particular, his experiments with Ernie Wollan on elastic scattering of neutrons from solids opened up a new field whereby the structures of many condensed matter phases could be studied using neutrons. At MIT, Dr. Shull continued to do research with neutron beams, including some very innovative experiments on neutron interferometry. He was supported by the BES' Division of Materials Sciences until his retirement from MIT in 1986. The information gained from the use of neutron scattering often cannot be obtained in any other way, and the new knowledge frequently results in enormous practical benefits. For example, chemical companies use neutrons to make better fibers, plastics, and catalysts; automobile manufacturers use neutrons to understand how to cast and forge gears and brake discs in order to make cars run better and more safely; and airplane manufacturers use neutron radiography for testing of defects in airplane wings, engines, and turbine blades.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1987 was awarded to Donald J. Cram (University of California at Los Angeles), Charles J. Pederson (Du Pont), and Jean-Marie Lehn (Université Louis Pasteur Strasbourg and Collège de France) for "for the development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity." Dr. Cram was supported in his research by BES' Division of Chemical Sciences for separation studies associated with the solubilization of metal ions in organic solvents. His work focused on a broad class of cyclic organic complexants to enable this solubilization process. Among this broad class of compounds are the "crown ethers". Potential uses for complexes of guest molecules imprisoned in the interior of rigidly hollow spherical host molecules include drug and radiation delivery systems, light switches, or molecular information storage and retrieval display systems.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1986 was awarded to Yuan Tseh Lee (University of California, Berkeley), Dudley R. Herschbach (Harvard University), and John C. Polanyi (University of Toronto) for "dynamics of chemical elementary processes." Dr. Herschbach and Dr. Lee were supported in their research by BES' Division of Chemical Sciences. By designing a new crossed molecular beam experiment, their research revealed how two molecules that undergo a chemical reaction collide, combine and transform themselves, step by step, into very different resultant products. By understanding chemistry from first principles, we can improve how fuel is burned, how ozone is depleted and how catalysts operate in specific reactions.

The Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies have supported the award-winning scientific research of scores of Nobel Laureates since 1934. These distinguished researchers have won or shared in dozens of different Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine.