News / Europe

3 US Scientists Win Nobel Chemistry Prize

Laureates Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel as winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Oct. 9, 2013.
Laureates Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel as winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Oct. 9, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to three scientists who developed computer programs that have become as important to chemists as test tubes.

These programs accurately simulate how large, complex molecules behave. The work is central to drug discovery, materials science and much more.  

Chemistry is all about the interactions of atoms. But these building blocks of all matter are far too small to see, even with the most powerful microscope.

So, over time, chemists have come up with two different ways of visualizing atoms and the molecules they form. And they have written computer programs to simulate each approach.

2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

  • Martin Karplus of the Universite de Strasbourg and Harvard University
  • Michael Levitt of Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Awarded for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems
  • Winners laid the foundation for powerful computer programs used to understand and predict chemical processes
Competing models

Simpler, classical models “treat the bonds between atoms as springs,” said Middle Tennessee State University chemistry professor Preston MacDougall. "Some springs are stiff, some springs are floppy. Some things twist easily, some things are harder to twist.”

Those models are fine for looking at how the shapes of molecules change in different conditions, for example, when they are hot or cold.

But they don’t tell you much about what happens when bonds between atoms break and reform, as happens in the enzymes that do the work in our bodies.

For that, you need much more accurate and complicated models that use quantum physics.

Computer power

But using quantum models for all the bonds in a big molecule like an enzyme would take an enormous amount of computer power.

“In modeling, as in many aspects of life, there’s a certain ‘you get what you pay for’ aspect,” says University of Minnesota chemist Chris Cramer.

Beginning in the 1970s, Harvard chemist Martin Karplus, Stanford’s Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel at the University of Southern California developed computer models that successfully combined the two.

“They figured out a way to have a connection between the two that would let you have really fine-grained focus on an interesting piece of the big system, while not spending as much (computing power) to include the larger system,” Cramer said.

For example, he said, computer programs today use quantum models to study how a drug will react with the small part of an enzyme that performs chemical reactions. But the programs use simpler classical models to understand how the rest of the enzyme interacts with its surroundings.

These models have proven extremely valuable across the field of chemistry. For instance, scientists designing solar panels use them.

“Certain atoms are absorbing light and undergoing transitions which you must use quantum theory to model,” said Preston MacDougall. “But then, you also want to describe the plastic material that it’s embedded in, so that their bending properties are modeled properly, their thermal expansion, their mechanical properties are also modeled correctly.”

These models are so good that they accurately predict what happens in real life.

And according to the Nobel Prize committee, “Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube.”

You May Like

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid