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.
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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid