Two Japanese and an American who developed a key synthetic technique for making complex organic molecules used in medicine, agriculture and electronics have been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Richard Heck, 79, emeritus professor at the University of Delaware; Ei-Ichi Negishi, 75, of Purdue University; and Akira Suzuki, 80, a retired professor at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, will share the $1.5 million award for their creation of a family of reactions involving the metal palladium that allow chemists to link carbon atoms together more efficiently.
Carbon atoms are the building blocks of life, the skeletons of so-called organic molecules that play a key role in all the processes of metabolism.
However, carbon atoms are difficult to link together in precise ways, and the main thrust of organic chemistry for more than 100 years has been finding new ways to join them.
The importance of that effort is illustrated by the fact that this is the fifth chemistry Nobel awarded for the development of new synthetic techniques to make carbon-carbon bonds.
Heck, who is now retired in the Philippines, seemed shocked by the award. In a news conference organized by the Nobel committee, he said, "It was a big surprise to me."
At the same conference, Negishi said he had been dreaming of the prize since his youth.
"The Nobel Prize became a realistic dream of mine when I was in my 20s," he said. "I have accomplished maybe half of my goals, and I would definitely like to work for at least a couple more years."
In a televised news conference in Japan, Suzuki said he was honored by the award and hoped it would inspire young Japanese to pursue chemistry.
"A resource-poor country like Japan can only rely on people's endeavor and knowledge."