- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Two Americans and a French scientist won the Nobel Prize in chemistry yesterday for developing a chemical “dance” that makes molecules swap atoms, a process now used to create medicines, plastics and other products with more efficiency and less environmental hazard.

“What a great day for chemistry,” said Paul Anastas of the American Chemical Society.

The $1.3 million prize will be shared by Robert H. Grubbs, 63, of the California Institute of Technology; Richard R. Schrock, 60, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); and Yves Chauvin, 74, honorary director of research at the Institut Francais du Petrole in Rueil-Malmaison, France.

They explained and improved a process called metathesis, said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in bestowing the prize. This swapping of atoms between molecules creates new substances, and the winners have turned it into one of the most important reactions in organic chemistry, the academy said. Organic chemistry deals with carbon compounds.

“Metathesis reactions are an important tool in the creation of new drugs to fight many of the world’s major diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS,” said William F. Carroll Jr., president of the American Chemical Society. “They also are used to develop herbicides, new polymers and fuels.”

Mr. Chauvin explained in 1971 how metathesis reactions work and which kinds of metal compounds can be used as catalysts to make the reactions happen. Mr. Schrock, in 1990, was the first to produce an efficient metal-compound catalyst for the process. Two years later, Mr. Grubb developed the first in a series of improved catalysts.

Their work has led to chemical-making methods that are more efficient and generate fewer hazardous wastes — a major advance for “green chemistry,” the academy said.

Mr. Anastas said the approach requires less starting material and less energy as well as creates virtually no waste to dispose of and fewer byproducts.

“This is a day that people will look back at and say there is a true recognition that the best chemists in the world are doing green chemistry, and that green chemistry is just a part of doing good chemistry,” he said.

Mr. Grubbs said he was celebrating with a bottle of port.

“It’s tasting pretty good right now,” he said from Christchurch, New Zealand, where he was lecturing.

Mr. Chauvin, in Tours, France, said he felt “embarrassment, not joy,” and told reporters: “I had a quiet life; now I see that that is no longer the case.”

He also praised his fellow winners.

“I knew that my research was important. I opened the way, but it is my American colleagues who also worked on my research who are enabling me to get this prize today,” Mr. Chauvin said.

Mr. Schrock said he became interested in chemistry when he was given a chemistry set as an 8-year-old and at first liked to “blow things up.”

The Nobel Prize is “obviously a tremendous honor,” he said at a press conference at MIT. “Now I know dreams can come true.”

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