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Two Harvard Affiliates Share Chemistry Nobel

10.5.22

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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today conferred the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Morten Neldal, and K. Barry Sharpless (who is a repeat winner; he also shared the 2001 chemistry prize). The trio were honored “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry”—Sharpless and Meldal for pioneering work in functional chemistry and Bertozzi for applying click chemistry to map cells, leading to more targeted cancer treatments.

Bertozzi ’88, formerly at Berkeley, is now at Stanford, where she is Baker Family director of Stanford ChEM-H, Bass professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and professor, by courtesy, of chemical and systems biology and of radiology. Her website describes her research interests as spanning chemistry and biology, “with an emphasis on studies of cell surface sugars important to human health and disease. Her research group profiles changes in cell surface glycosylation associated with cancer, inflammation and bacterial infection, and uses this information to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, most recently in the area of immuno-oncology.” She is a 1999 MacArthur Fellow. The Crimson has reported that she is the first female graduate of the College to win a Nobel Prize.

Sharpless, of Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, where he is Keck professor of chemistry, is a Dartmouth alumnus who did postdoctoral work at Harvard in 1969 under Konrad E. Bloch (who himself shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on cholesterol). The Sharpless lab website describe its work as pursuing “useful new reactivity and general methods for selectively controlling chemical reactions. Though the focus has progressed from regio- to stereo- to asymmetric and, now, to connectivity control, the core chemistry remains unchanged: the oxidation of olefins, that single most versatile, powerful and reliable (KBS argues) chemical transformation. The Sharpless Lab was the first academic chemistry group with robotics, and the lesson from the combinatorial numbers game was the primacy of reliability. ‘Click’ chemistry was the Sharpless Lab’s response: a set of powerful, virtually 100% reliable, selective reactions for the rapid synthesis of new compounds via heteroatom links (C-X-C). Click chemistry is integral now to all research within the Sharpless Lab.”

This year’s third chemistry laureate, Meldal, is at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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