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Molecular Machinery: the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2016 Chemistry Nobel has gone to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard (Ben) Feringa for their work on molecular-sized machinery. This field has been growing steadily over the last quarter of a century, fueled by advances in synthetic organic techniques, analytical instrumentation, and the imaginations of the people who are practicing it. Fundamentally, they’ve been trying to physically link our macroscopic world with the molecular-level one by bringing what we know about macroscale structures and engineering down to that size.

If this reminds you of Richard Feynman’s famous “Plenty of Room at the Bottom” nanotechnology lecture, that’s for good reason. Conceptually, we can now see that Feynman starting things rolling back in 1959 with that talk, although for at least another 25 years it was thought of as a minor series of speculative thought experiments, if referenced at all. Note that that editorial mentions how journals now actually have to discourage Feynman references in the first paragraphs nanotech papers, since it’s become such a cliché! But here I’ve fallen into it as well, and so did the Nobel folks in their scientific background piece on today’s award. It’s hard not to – while Feynman got some things wrong, the stuff he got right is downright visionary for 1959.


But it was during the 1980s that today’s laureates demonstrated that synthetic chemistry could start to be treated from an engineering standpoint. I well remember when Sauvage demonstrated the first practical synthesis of catenanes, structures of two two interlocked molecular rings. It was seen as an interesting curiosity, a “Well, who’da thought” story of surely no practical use whatsoever. Catenanes (and the related rotaxanes) had been demonstrated back in the 1960s in what were felt to be low-yielding syntheses of zoo objects. That feeling has followed the whole field ever since, and the work of today’s awardees is no exception.  “Well, that’s a really neat demonstration of what odd structures we chemists can make. Gosh. But why?” This award should help answer that one, for those who still need the answer.

Looked at from another direction, it’s a bit strange that some of this work wasn’t taken more seriously. Host-guest complexation has been a big area of research for many years now, with applications in pharmaceuticals, materials science, optics and other areas. Consider cyclodextrins, which came on big during the 1980s and have never gone away. When they complex a small molecule in their interior space, what you’re seeing is an “incomplete rotaxane”, where things just haven’t quite threaded out of both ends of the tube. elevatorWhen you get to thinking about those structures, then you can start wondering about whether some system could be built that slides such a tube or ring in a controlled manner along a long chain, or whether the interior species rotates and how, or what would happen if you used different sorts of molecular interactions to accomplish the complexation (perhaps things sensitive to pH, or light, or added electrons?), or if the interactions themselves could serve as some sort of on/off switch, or if these systems could reversibly extend and contract. . .the number of experiments you can think up in this field is huge, but note that all the ones I’ve just described have already been investigated in various ways by (among others) the labs of the three Nobel awardees! See that scientific summary linked above for details – as usual, it’s an excellent overview of the work.

Mentioning a mechanical switch brings up another analogy that shows how important this sort of work is. What, in the end, is a receptor on a cell surface other than a mechanical switch? An agonist molecule binds, physically binds, the transmembrane helices shift around on each other in ways that we’re finally starting to really understand, which exposes different protein surfaces in the cell-side region below, setting off a cascade of signaling. Its easy (too easy) to picture this as a sort of circle-with-a-curvy-arrow abstraction on a page, but that’s not what’s going on. Small molecules and proteins are physical objects, and many of their most important interactions are accomplished by physical slotting, shifting, ratcheting, and rotating. What else can accurately describe the RNA polymerase complex that’s moving along the DNA of your cells right now?

Today’s award is a recognition of these facts, and of science’s attempt to mimic them for our own purposes. Atom-by-atom nanotechnology may or may not be possible, but molecule by molecule? That’s what keeps us walking around. If we can learn to build machines on that level, there is no telling what we might eventually be able to accomplish. I think that the reluctance to make that connection in some people is an unrealized leftover of vitalism, the feeling that the machinery of living cells is somehow “different”. It isn’t. It chunks and rattles and slides, and we can study it, understand it, and mimic it, and we can build things that evolution has never explored at all.

One thing I do want to finish up with is recognition of some of the many other people in this field who aren’t on today’s award. It’s well-chosen, but it’s also a big field, and there have been a lot of contributors. I’m thinking particularly of T. Ross Kelly’s molecular ratchet, Jim Tour’s nanocar work (an area also explored by Feringa), and Julius Rebek‘s host-guest investigations, but there are many more. And there will be many more in the years to come.

83 comments on “Molecular Machinery: the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”

  1. Nanoputian says:

    You forgot Tour’s synthesis of me and my family.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Yeah, more like “deliberately tried to forget”.

      1. Neil Tyson says:

        Everyone complains we don’t do enough public outreach but the one time someone does, it’s a joke for fifteen years.

        1. Belgian PhD student says:

          Neil Tyson as in Neil Degrasse Tyson?

          1. Neil Tyson says:

            It’s just my posting pseudonym.

      2. Backgrounder chemist says:

        I was in the room when Tour wrote the synthesis of the Nanoputians on the board during group meeting. The molecular designs were a natural extension of the molecular electronics molecules the group had extensive experience in. Stoddard designed his molecules for molecular electronics too, not sure if that was mentioned in the announcement.

        Tour’s group had been working on the nanocars for a long time but attaching the C60 wheels was problematical. However, anytime he showed the proposed synthesis, even non chemists could see that the molecule resembled a car.

        To add further context, Tour had a student who was very interested in art. The synthesis of the Nanoputians was a way to keep the student interested in the chemistry. It was seen as educational outreach too. Try to write a NSF proposal without outreach.

        A lot of non chemists were very interested in the Nanoputians. Vials containing them were displayed in a museum in France as a way to show just how many molecules are in a mg of product. The paper was difficult to get published but is a highly downloaded paper.

        The nanocar paper (also difficult to get published) in Nano Letters was the most downloaded paper of all papers in all ACS journals in 2005.

        Not that this will change any minds. And there was no connection to religion. Just good chemistry.

        I was also shocked that this area was awarded a Nobel.

        1. Neil Tyson says:

          Thanks for the background. I’d heard about the project being designed to motivate the original student as well, which only made me respect Prof Tour more. How many profs would have done that?

          Of course his work looks interesting to laypeople and he is open about professing his faith, so everyone (including the blogger here apparently) thinks it’s hilarious. Honestly their response is, in a word, shameful.

          Remember, molecules in the shape of cars or people is a waste of time because it’s not Serious Chemical Science.

          Molecules in the shape of linked magician’s rings are, of course, Serious Chemical Science.

          1. Hap says:

            He came to work in the group I was in for a year and he seemed OK. He did lots of stuff (unlike other visiting professors for other people, who seemed to disappear).

            I should probably be less dismissive of his outreach; it just seemed to rub me the wrong way (maybe a response to the nano hype that seemed to be taking everything over). If it works (and it did, at least a little bit), I probably shouldn’t be so harsh.

          2. I don’t think there should be a problem with Tour’s private faith, but his thoughts about evolution seem to be more concerning (see link in my handle). I genuinely wonder how much some of this influenced (or did not influence) the Nobel Prize committee.

    2. Sideshow Bill says:

      Just curious, what’s the backstory there? I know Tour is a creationist, is this somehow related? Good friend of mine was a grad student for him, not at all religious, but he got a hell of an education.

      1. Hap says:

        I think Prof. Tour was trying to humanize chemistry, but it didn’t come off well with chemists, I think. I don’t think it worked well with other people, either.

        I think when outreach/PR works badly, it becomes a joke – that’s just how it works for everyone, I think. The problem is that it’s hard to do well.

        1. anon says:

          Too bad Twitter didn’t exist back then. I am sure it would not be a joke today.

          1. Erebus says:

            Reminds me of the old ketene “animal” (aminal) joke…


            ,,,That was a good one!

        2. DH says:

          Did it really work badly? Per the Wikipedia article:

          “A 2004-2005 study in two schools districts in Ohio and Kentucky found that using NanoKids led to a 10-59% increase in understanding of the material presented. Additionally, it was found that 82% of students found that NanoKids made learning science more interesting.”

          This looks to me like a success.

          1. Hap says:

            No one else seems to have bit much, though. It could be that teachers aren’t as flexible as they should be, but it could also be that this was a limited set of experiments and it hasn’t worked on larger scale. At least Tour tested it, but I don’t know how much of a success I’d take this as.

      2. Brandon Hilderman says:

        Well, here’s one chemist who thinks Tour’s work is pretty nifty. If purists think it’s a joke, so be it. Even Richard Feynman wrote a book called Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman…. It’s no small wonder that most of the people you meet say “oh, I hated/never understood/didn’t take chemistry.” Sometimes what they need is a good teacher! My only knowledge of Jim Tour’s teaching skills were when we were both graduate students at Purdue, but from everything I could see, his lab students really liked him and did pretty well. If, for some reason, his unashamed views on the origin and development of the universe have influenced the Nobel committee, then so be it, but it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve messed up (in this case ignoring a major contributor to the field of molecular machines). Look at the economics prizes (as if any of them have actually benefited the economy) and a few of the recent peace prizes — Malala and Satyarthi excepted — for some really questionable contributions.

    3. Anny123 says:

      Simply frustrating! There are many important discoveries out there.

  2. Road says:

    So… aside from cyclodextrins, any other examples of actual applications?

    1. Road says:

      The silence is deafening…

  3. Peter Kenny says:

    A Nobel for molecular design?

  4. Curious Wavefunction says:

    Looks like Richard Feynman was a far better futurist than Ray Kurzweil or Michio Kaku. A well deserved prize.

  5. c says:

    Imagine if “nanotechnology” had poured resources into this type of molecular control rather than the various catalytic rods and hollow spheres you can read about in journals like ACS Nano.

    This is the type of stuff we had all hoped nantech would explore, but I think it’s a couple decades behind where it could/should be. Hopefully this award helps to attract more interest to the field.

  6. Magrinhopalido says:

    Overpromise, under-deliver. And the field gets a Nobel prize.

    So many well-deserved recipients are shaking their heads this morning.

    1. KC Nicolaou says:

      No shit!

    2. Phil says:

      Speaking of which, weren’t buckyballs supposed to solve all of society’s problems by 1998?

  7. MM says:

    I was fortunate enough to have lunch/dinner with both Faringa and Stoddart when I was a grad student (not at the same time; my nerd brain would have exploded!). They seemed like genuinely decent human beings and super attentive to us lowly graduates, which is unusual for such high caliber scientists. Stoddart even drove through a blizzard just so he could make it to our student-only dinner, which he could have easily cancelled. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to work for them, but I’m happy to see hardworking, brilliant scientists who are also decent people get this type of recognition. Dick Zare would be another one in this category who I’m pulling for.

  8. EB says:

    David Leigh is also part of the many other, my favorites molecular-machines come from his lab!

  9. Seb says:

    FEringa (not Faringa)… Also I didn’t know his name was Bernard – always heard him referred to as Ben.

    Had lunch once with Sauvage – extremely nice and modest person and cool chemistry too!

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Thanks! Fixed the typo, and you’re right – I’ve always heard him referred to as Ben, so I added that as well.

  10. Kelvin says:

    One day, in the distant future, somebody might realise that proteins form the best molecular machines. And then, many years later, somebody else will realise that evolution rather than design is the best way to develop them. At which point, chemists will look at biology and say, “wow, why didn’t I think of that”.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Already underway, of course – see all the “directed evolution” papers, protein engineering, etc.

      1. Kelvin says:

        Indeed, that’s my own background from the MRC Center for Protein Engineering, and forms the basis of a concept I have developed for a fully integrated drug discovery system, which could automatically generate safe and effective new drug candidates for any disease without any prior understanding of the disease mechanism.

        1. Burghermeister says:

          Boy does Microsoft have a job for you!

  11. DCRogers says:

    For me, the most exciting reference is Eric Drexler’s “Engines of Creation”:

    The postulate is that we live in a “diffusion-based” subatomic world, but if we could harness molecules directly as machines, the power unleashed would be indeed world changing,

    1. anon the II says:

      I was wondering if someone would toss Drexler’s name in here. And so it has happened.

      I never thought Drexler’s musings were of much value. He didn’t seem to grasp the granularity of atoms and all the implications that would have. I think he poured more smoke in the area than light.

      1. Hap says:

        Thermodynamics is a problem there, too. You can’t beat that particular reaper.

        1. Maxwell says:

          correct – Maxwell’s demon doesn’t exist, especially if you count the entropy term of the demon itself. I agree with Lord Kelvin’s comment that “proteins form the best molecular machines” – it’s hard to compete with the free energy of Mother Nature’s nanobots.

  12. Bla bla says:

    Was taught be Feringa in undergrad, always seemed like a good guy.

  13. luysii says:

    Here’s an allosteric effect some 1,800 Angstroms long, for use in the molecular machines of the future. There’s a great deal of very unusual protein physical chemistry to be discovered here. The mechanism for it is purely speculative at this time as the author noted. This is where you come in. For details please see —

  14. asoc says:

    I don’t get this one.

  15. Astatine says:

    Though it seems that I’m the only having this feeling, but I find it difficult to understand the Nobel Committee’s decision for this year’s prize in chemistry. Yes, those molecular machines are fancy and interesting. However, frankly, they are not much more than some miniscule automatons that has been arousing hype for decades but whose scientific or technological value is uncertain at best. After three decades, how many devices are currently based on this discovery? Which chemical theory did it challenge or confirm? Did it produce new experimental techniques in chemistry? I think my point will be clearer when the prize in chemistry is compared to the prizes in physiology/medicine.

    1. Astatine says:

      Oops. Seems like that I can’t modify my comment.

    2. Garry says:

      Agree with you! The work awarded the year prize hardly bring anything new to any field except some hype!

    3. Free Radical says:

      You are not alone on this one.

  16. nitrosonium says:

    i always wondered about those Stoddard-produced images (vide supra) showing multiple macromolecules fitting together in exactly one way with a scheme showing them behaving in exactly the way they’re supposed to behave. those are nice colored renderings but how do you know that’s what you have in solution? in other words how do you differentiate between the desired complex (shown in the scheme) and partially formed or intermolecular assemblies. i am not challenging the validity of the Nobel award…..i’ve just always wondered. I never read the papers….insert meaningless cop-out reason here.

    is it NMR?

    there has to be a limit on the scalablitiy here which limits application beyond academic interest? am i wrong here?

    1. one_man_CRO says:

      i agree with this line of questioning. if i synthesize a new compound that i think is X, i must have an NMR structure that allows me to conclude the structure I proposed is as advertised. Those Stoddard renderings of complex interconnected macromoluecules must have some data to support their existence as drawn….right?

      1. c says:

        Are neither of you willing to read ANY papers in this field before posting about it? Literally open up any paper by one of these guys and you will find all the typical characterization techniques (NMR, MS, xray) and sometimes not-so-typical techniques (AFM) as well.

        Pathetic laziness on your part, honestly.

        1. one_man_CRO says:

          c, calm the hysterics. i was just asking how these things were characterized. that’s all. i was neither trying to challenge the chemistry or the Nobel committee’s decision. can’t speak for nitrosonium’s take on this

          as my user name state, i am a one man CRO. literally one person running a full scale soup-to-nuts synthesis CRO. i simply have no time outside of the 60 hr work-week of molecule making for reading much of anything besides synthetic/med chem papers.

          1. c says:

            Plenty of time to post vapid questions on chemistry blogs, apparently.

          2. Grata says:


            I am also on man CRO….could you outsource anywork that you can’t possibly take upon your self?

        2. one_man_CRO says:

          yes…the time it takes to ask a question on a blog is on the same scale of time it takes to find, read, digest and absorb a paper from outside your field. your sense of time/effort needs serious recalibration.

          i weep for your future

    2. MHP says:

      There are plenty of x-ray crystal structures of catenanes that confirm their structure. For example, doi: 10.1038/nchem.2056

  17. BK says:

    Still a crying shame that Goodenough hasn’t won.

    1. To His Coy Nobel Committee says:

      +1: I’m not going to say that molecular machines shouldn’t have won, but there’s at least a decade more that we can expect these guys to be around and, thus, the prize could have waited. Goodenough? I’m getting really worried that time’s winged chariot is nipping at his heels.

      1. 123 says:

        I think there are infinite people who think Goodenough should have won it a long time back….

        Probably, the committee is forgetting the will of Alfred Nobel i.e., that it has to be for the benefit of human beings!

  18. Dr CNS says:

    This is the type of research I love to read about.
    Creative, cool, with unpredictable impact, and CHEMISTRY BASED.
    A dose of inspiration for many of us.

    Great story about to get better – congrats to the awardees.

  19. Mike B. says:

    When will click chemistry win?

    1. Tom says:

      Asking Thomson Reuters. They can tell you who definitely will NOT win.
      Everyone on their list will grantee not to win at that year.

    2. Rhenium says:

      Don’t you mean “click-bait” chemistry?

  20. Closetotheend says:

    I did a literature seminar on catenanes as part of my Ph.D. requirements a few years ago. The talk almost failed because some of the faculty did not believe the topic to be worth discussing….

  21. Sunny_in_Boston says:

    I have to say, this one is a head-scratcher! Sure, these molecular machines are interesting and potentially useful, but their utility is really being oversold at this time. No wonder, the Nobel committee was tying themselves in a (molecular?) knot trying to justify it by saying things like “when the electric motor was invented, no one know what to use it for”, etc. Well, maybe the prize should be given after it’s clear what good these things are for!

    Recent Nobel prizes have fallen into one of these categories: (1) something so dramatically useful, that everyone is using it routinely (PCR, RCM, RNAi, etc.), or (2) a really novel discovery that no one ever thought existed (e.g. fullerenes), even if its usefulness is not clear, or (3) a novel theoretical framework that describes some observations (e.g. FMO theory). Some prizes have been for combinations of the above, but I’m having a hard time justifying the 2016 prize.

    1. loupgarous says:

      Catenanes are a hinge waiting for a nanomechanism to work in. Cyclodextrins are waiting for the nanomechanism that can best use them as an actuator or a switch.

      The one thing that’s beset nanotechnology is “if what you have is an hammer, everything looks like a nail” syndrome. Our nanotoolkit’s getting bigger all the time. Instead of asking “so why aren’t we seeing specific applications for catenanes and cyclodextrins?” the thing to do is continue following new developments in nanotechnology. Eventually we’ll see either those specific applications or the reason why they’re not there.

      Until then, it’s a losing game to debate why X, Y, and Z got a Nobel, when A, from the same group as B and C is much more deserving and is old and/or frail, so by Nobel Prize rules may lose his chance for that kind of recognition the way that Henry Moseley and Rosalind Franklin did. I will say more politics seems to surround disputes over who got and didn’t get the Nobel than the selection process itself.

      1. Anon says:

        “Catenanes are a hinge waiting for a nanomechanism to work in.”

        So is a propyl or butyl group, and these are much simpler, cheaper and already work as “hinges” (i.e., flexible linkers) all throughout chemistry.

        Why replace something simple that works, with something complex?

        The problem with most nanotech, is that it’s complex “solutions” still looking for problems to solve.

  22. Hap says:

    Good news: There’s no doubt this is chemistry. The chemistry is interesting.
    Bad news: The hat:cattle ratio is really high. At least photoredox chemistry has been used for something other than publications. Between the overuse of “nano” and the “real soon now” nature of the things this research is supposed to enable, this seems like a triumph of hype. Research isn’t (only) supposed to enable Nobel Prizes.

    On the third hand, this isn’t my prize, so YMMV.

    1. Erebus says:

      Entirely agreed. Very premature to award a “molecular machines” Nobel, when the field is in the earliest stages of its infancy.

      …But at least it’s chemistry. Interesting and visionary chemistry, at that. And this is more than we can say for last year’s prize…

  23. Heartiest Congratulations!!! From Sameen Ahmed KHAN, College of Arts and Applied Sciences, Dhofar University, Salalah, Sultanate of OMAN.

  24. Jon says:

    Super chuffed for the winners, it’s wonderful validation for beautiful chemistry illustrating early steps towards functional nanomachines. That said, I feel that the contributions of Dave Leigh can’t go unmentioned regarding the development of synthetic molecular machines (at least in the final paragraph here) – he’s a giant in the field!

  25. hn says:

    Ugh.. with all due respect to fellow chemists, this is the worst Chem Nobel in a long time. It’s kind of cool but is neither world changing, reveals fundamental new knowledge, or develops powerful technology.

    This vs lithium ion batteries or CRISPR?

  26. MoMo says:

    Are you kidding? This is great chemistry and predicted in Crichtons’ “Prey”.
    Soon nanobots will be crawling through your liver, eradicating bad cells and those who try to stop them! Then little stick soldiers made with alkyne legs will obliterate our enemies and protect us from unseen microbes!
    I’m still waiting for Raquel Welch to blast plaques from my cerebral arteries.

  27. Blunderbuss says:

    The Buckeyballshead Revisited

  28. Barry says:

    the green light chlorophyl disdains to use
    announces that our crops are in good health
    but it’s by sucking up the reds and blues
    that it contributes to a farmer’s wealth
    two photons per electron share the weight
    promoted out of water’s cozy well
    as waste, free oxygen to liberate
    the quantum yield’s not huge, but what the Hell
    molecular machines are in the news
    but–so far–there’s less substance here than noise
    compared to what a chloroplast would use
    this Chemistry Nobel rewarded toys
    before photovoltaics were the rage
    a blue-green alga launched the solar age

  29. Anonymous says:

    The original trefoil knot paper made the cover of ACIEE, 1989, 28 (2): 189–192. However, there was a problem with the structure proof which was based on NMR. I wrote to Sauvage pointing out that there were TWO possible structures that matched the reported NMR: (1) the desired trefoil knot and (2) a D2-symmetric non-knotted coiled loop. (That’s from memory and I do not have access to the papers behind the paywalls to check my memory.) Sauvage very politely replied that I was correct in that the NMR proof was not adequate but that they had an X-ray structure in the works. Within a year or so, the X-ray proving the knotted structure appeared.

    I took the opportunity to ask Sauvage if I could possibly post-doc with him. He very politely replied along the lines of ‘Sure! Just bring your own money!’ Soon after, he made a speaking tour of the US and he offered to give a seminar at my institution, basically for free (except for seminar donuts and maybe a dinner) and that all of his expenses (air, hotel, etc) were already covered by other institutions in the area. I went to the seminar committee with his offer and they declined it. (I was kind of flabbergasted.)

    Moving on … although my PhD was in natural products synthesis, one of the projects I worked on involved a molecule that I felt, with modification, could not only work as a motor but be coupled to a fuel supply, a transmission, a choice of outputs and operate continuously (until the fuel ran out). Basically, a REAL molecular motor. I slipped some of that into my thesis. I basically commented that all prior work on “molecular motors” was quite far from producing actual motors. Ratchet molecules that had to be purified and re-activated (e.g., with AcCl or similar) after each cycle were pretty lame excuses for motors. Likewise, many photoswitches that just toggled back and forth with light/light or light/heat cycling. I wrote up my stuff as a more complete proposal as a post-doc (NOT with Sauvage) but never got any funding.

    I am sure that many others posting to Pipeline have similar stories about unpublished papers and unfunded proposals. No Nobel Prizes for us.

  30. Mike B. says:

    Looks like a bunch of chemists who haven’t won a Nobel Prize are specialists in NaCl, because y’all are a salty bunch. Just because you don’t see the utility of something now or that it might not be immediate doesn’t mean someone else might not see the potential for it in the future.

    1. Anon says:


  31. The Iron Chemist says:

    A cool set of discoveries to be sure, but I too am unsure why this was at the top of the list of things to be recognized this year.

  32. Li Zhi says:

    Machine: a structure which does useful work, and is capable of doing it repetitively. I don’t see these as nano-machines, but (while I read some of the original reports back when) I’ll readily admit that I’ve not kept up, nor have read the Nobel explanation of their award. Right now, I’m underwhelmed. If this is the “high point” of the art/science of Chemistry from living practitioners, then it’s time for the study of chemistry to be reframed as a support subject for other fields, much as freshman physics and calculus is, and rename most departments of chemistry as departments of applied chemistry. Sure, it *might* be important. Who wants to make a list of things which *certainly* will NEVER be important? It’s like most of my computer programming, I think. I ‘steal’ as much code as I can in building an app, rather than re-inventing it. We’ve got many real nano-machines to steal from (ie living organisms, including viruses and perhaps even prions (in the news this week)), I don’t expect much progress directly from this type of ab initio effort. Did the same guys decide on this as decided to give Obama a Nobel? I’m no synthetic chemist, but I know of a lot more important and beautiful syntheses than these. Who would list these in the top 10? 20? 50?

  33. Dude says:

    Actually, the Nobel laureates’ contribution to advancing the world is not measured in mundane applications. It’s the novel approach to a field (controlled motion), its understanding and what you do with that that is novel in the three laureates work. The nanocar race is often a joke but having four wheels all do what you tell them to is no simple feature both in design and in the physics to control them. Random motion vs controlled motion is no easy transition, and one of the current limitations for more advanced applications is the delivery of information : a very focus picosecond laser is a challengingly energetic communication system, and ultramicroelectrode doesn’t follow your device around easily and is still too big, etc..
    Trying to do controlled motion is quite hard, in bulk it is even more of a a tough cookie.
    Sure there are a lot of things that could also get a prize, but hey, story of our academic lives, there are a lot of contenders for not many rewards.

    Incidentally, this is both, to my eyes, a field prize and a career prize for the three, since they did some very nice chemistry in other domains too. The story started in the 80’s , and three milestones have been rewarded, it’s a fair one, and a pure chemistry prize for once 🙂

    Feringa is quite the visionary, approaching problems from a physical-chemistry and function angle. He’s also very student oriented, putting them forward all the time . I had the chance to work in a team of his department but not his team, he’s a very pleasant person, too.

    Sauvage is also applauded, even by those who are not big fans of (supra)molecular machines – partly because now there will be less comparing him (negatively) to his former mentor Lehn – especially since his first speech after winning was about the poor research conditions that young academics face in France.

    Both had great impact on their fields , their work is linked to them in the chemistry community’s collective minds, just as for Stoddart, although I haven’t followed him so much lately.

    So yeah, it’s quite a fair prize , for what my judgment is worth , and no one can complain it’s not chemistry.

  34. Robert Burns W says:

    The best part about this year’s prize is that it is recognizably chemistry and it is even organic chemistry that medicinal chemists can relate to.
    Does it have applications? Well, that’s like asking what Barack Obama did to deserve the Peace Prize… Ask yourselves how many chemistry winners in the last ten years are likely to have their science taught to chemistry undergraduates. I’m just happy that three chemists who actually make organic compounds and publish in mainstream chemistry journals won for a change.

  35. lucy jasmine says:

    Firstly I would like to say Congrats for getting NOBEL PRIZE. The mentioned article Molecular Machinery: the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was good. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful information. 😀

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