Scientists who took chemistry into cyberspace win Nobel Prize

Wed Oct 9, 2013 3:21pm EDT
 
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By Mia Shanley and Sven Nordenstam

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Three U.S. scientists won the Nobel chemistry prize on Wednesday for pioneering work on computer programs that simulate complex chemical processes and have revolutionized research in areas from drugs to solar energy.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, awarding the prize of 8 million crowns ($1.25 million) to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel, said their work had effectively taken chemistry into cyberspace. Long gone were the days of modeling reactions using plastic balls and sticks.

"Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube," the academy said in a statement. "Computer models mirroring real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today."

Chemical reactions occur at lightning speed as electrons jump between atomic nuclei, making it virtually impossible to map every separate step in chemical processes involving large molecules like proteins.

Powerful computer models, first developed by the three scientists in the 1970s, offer a new window onto such reactions and have become a mainstay for researchers in thousands of academic and industrial laboratories around the world.

'LIKE A MOVIE'

In drug design, for example, scientists can now use computers to calculate how an experimental medicine will react with a particular target protein in the body by working out the interplay of atoms.

"The field of computational modeling has revolutionized how we design new medicines by allowing us to accurately predict the behavior of proteins," said Dominic Tildesley, president-elect of Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry.   Continued...

 
University of Southern California professor Arieh Warshel talks on the phone with Israeli President Shimon Peres after hearing he won the Nobel chemistry prize in Los Angeles, California October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson