The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Martin Karplus of the University of Strasbourg and Harvard University; Michael Levitt of Standford University; and Arieh Warshel from the University of Southern California.
The full citation reads: “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”
Essentially, they have laid the foundations to understand and predict chemical processes, instead of having two things react and explode in our faces. They have this by taking the “chemical experiment to cyberspace,” the Nobel committee said.
Essentially, they’ve brought chemistry out of the lab and into the computer.
“Chemistry is an experimental science but today theoretical chemists are providing answers to complex questions,” the committee said. These theoreticists “are working together with experimentalists to understand [the world around us].”
Some of the applications include the creation of drugs and understanding photosynthesis — the way in which plants turn carbon dioxide, water, and light into sugar and oxygen. The actual inner workings of these processes is invisible to the naked eye and happen in a split second.
Chemists traditionally try to understand how these complex interactions happen by analysing their shape using an approach called X-Ray crystallography, which takes purified molecules and watches how light hits them to understand what they look like.
The theoretical chemists awarded the prize devised methods to integrate quantum and classical physics to understand how atoms move in molecules when they interact — the basis of chemical reactions.
During a call to Stockholm after the announcement, Warshel compared this to looking at a watch and trying to figure out how it works.
“Theory has become the new experiment,” Sven Lidin, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, said in an interview after the announcement.
Predictions are becoming so complex that we can understand 90% of a reaction, then concentrate on the remaining, most important 10%, he said.
The winners were announced live from Stockholm at 5:45 a.m. EST. They share a $US1.2 million award.
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