Professor David William Cross MacMillan has been announced as the latest Scot to win a Nobel Prize. The Bellshill-born Professor at Princeton is sharing the 2021 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Professor Benjamin List of Cologne University for their roles in “the development of asymmetric organocatalysis”.
Asymmetric organocatalysis is a new and ingenious tool for molecule building, which has also helped in the development of plastics, perfumes and flavours.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said “Organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions. Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.”
It has been seen as a major contribution to the “greening” of chemistry. Professor Tom Welton, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Organocatalysis has made a huge impact across chemicals synthesis. It has enabled us to develop new sustainable synthetic routes to important intermediates and products. It has also freed us from always relying on metals, that are often elements at risk, for our catalysts.”
Professor MacMillan is 53 and was educated at University of Glasgow from where he graduated with a BSc in chemistry in 1989. He received his PhD in 1996 from the University of California, Irvine, USA.
From 1996 to 1998, he performed postdoctoral research with Professor Dave Evans at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. He then started his independent career at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.
MacMillan joined the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, USA, in 2000, and was appointed Earle C Anthony Chair of Organic Chemistry there in 2004.
In 2006, he was appointed A Barton Hepburn Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Merck Center for Catalysis at Princeton University in New Jersey – largely the creation of the Reverend John Witherspoon, born in Haddington and the only clergyman and only college president to sign the US Declaration of Independence Prof MacMillan is now James S McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Princeton. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He said “I am shocked and stunned and overjoyed, It was funny because I got some texts from people in Sweden really early this morning and I thought they were pranking me so I went back to sleep. Then my phone starting going crazy.”
“What we care about is trying to invent chemistry that has an impact on society and can do some good, and I am thrilled to have a part in that. Organocatalysis was a pretty simple idea that really sparked a lot of different research, and the part we’re just so proud of is that you don’t have to have huge amounts of equipment and huge amounts of money to do fine things in chemistry.”
Professor Justin Hargreaves, head of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry, said: “Huge congratulations to Benjamin List and David MacMillan on receiving the 2021 Nobel prize in chemistry for their work on organic catalysts.
“We’re particularly thrilled for David, who undertook his undergraduate degree in chemistry here at the University of Glasgow. He has maintained links with the School of Chemistry in the years since, including offering bursaries to support students, for which we’re very grateful.
“He is now the fifth Nobel laureate in chemistry associated with the university, after Sir William Ramsay, Frederick Soddy, Sir Alexander Robertus Todd and Sir Derek Barton.
“They are some of the most accomplished chemists of their time, and we’re delighted that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has chosen to place David among them.”