Purdue professor wins Nobel Prize in chemistry

October 6, 2010

Purdue President France A. Córdova, at left, talks Wednesday (Oct. 6) with Purdue University professor Ei-ichi Negishi, Nobel Laureate in chemistry, at his home in West Lafayette, Ind. Negishi is the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University chemist on Wednesday (Oct. 6) was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for creating a method to build complex organic molecules necessary for numerous purposes, from pharmaceutical manufacturing to electronics.

Ei-ichi Negishi (pronounced "H. Na-gE-shE"), the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, was a co-recipient of the prize with scientists Richard Heck of the University of Delaware in Newark and Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. They will share the $1.5 million award.

Purdue President France A. Córdova said the university was proud that Negishi and his work were recognized by the Nobel Prize committee.

"Ei-ichi Negishi's work in organic molecules is groundbreaking and inspiring, especially in its application for improving medicines and impacting lives," Córdova said. "We are very proud that he has been bestowed with this highest honor. We congratulate professor Negishi and celebrate this great accomplishment."

Negishi developed metal-based reactions, called palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling, that allow for easy and efficient synthesis of complex organic compounds. Examples of applications include drug manufacturing, fluorescent marking that has been essential for DNA sequencing and creating materials for thin LED displays.

He discovered catalytic reactions using a number of transition metals that allow various organic compounds to be synthesized widely, efficiently and selectively for use in fields ranging from medicine to materials development. His work has resulted in dramatically reducing the cost of using such metals, like palladium, in the synthesis.

"Catalysts are not lost as they spur a chemical reaction, they are recycled and can be used over and over again," he said. "These transition metals are very expensive, but when they can be used millions to billions of times, it dramatically reduces the cost and makes the mass manufacturing of special, complex materials practical."

Negishi likened the innovation to playing with a LEGO game, altering the building blocks of molecules and using transition metals as catalysts to promote the reactions needed for the synthesis.

"We found catalysts and created reactions that allow complex organic compounds to, in effect, snap together with other compounds to more economically and efficiently build desired materials," he said. "LEGOs can be combined to make things of any shape, size and color, and our reactions make this a possibility for organic compounds." 

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has supported Negishi's work since 1979.

"This methodology has vastly improved the possibilities to create sophisticated chemicals and has broad implications for the medical, electronic and agricultural fields," said NIH director Francis S. Collins. "It has already allowed chemists to synthesize compounds to fight the herpes virus, HIV and colon cancer."

NIGMS director Jeremy M. Berg said Negishi's work focuses on the carbon-carbon bonds that form the backbones of organic molecules.

"Carbon-carbon bonds are like the frame of a house - you have to get them right for the structure to be functional and useful," Berg said. "By developing a more precise and efficient method for making these bonds, Dr. Negishi created a remarkably powerful tool for synthesizing a wide range of useful chemicals."

The Nobel Prize was bestowed primarily on the strength of 10 seminal papers published from 1976 to 1978, said Negishi, who came to Purdue in 1966 as a postdoctoral researcher under the late Herbert C. Brown, who won the Nobel Prize in 1979.

Negishi is one of two of Brown's students to win the prize this year. Co-recipient Suzuki also studied under Brown.

Kevin Gurney, a Purdue professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and Otto Doering, a professor  of agricultural economics, were part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

Negishi grew up in Japan and received a bachelor's degree in organic chemistry from the University of Tokyo in 1958. He moved to the United States in 1960 to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania as a Fulbright-Smith-Mundt scholar, earning a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1963. Negishi went to Syracuse University in 1972, where he was an assistant professor and then an associate professor before returning to Purdue in 1979.

He was appointed the H. C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in 1999 and has won various awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the A. R. Day Award, a Chemical Society of Japan Award, an American Chemical Society Organometallic Chemistry Award and a Humboldt Senior Researcher Award. Negishi has authored more than 400 publications including two books, one of which is the Handbook of Organopalladium Chemistry for Organic Synthesis. Collectively, these publications have been cited more than 20,000 times. Negishi has been cited in Marquis Who's Who in America and Marquis Who's Who in the World.

The Nobel Prizes will be awarded during ceremonies on Dec. 10 in Stockholm and Oslo.

Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1968 Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Each prize consists of a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award.

Writers:    Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

                   Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

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Related information:
Purdue's Nobel Prize morning news conference: mms://video.dis.purdue.edu/bns/General/DauchPresser_101006.wmv

Purdue's Nobel Prize afternoon (English) news conference: mms://video.dis.purdue.edu/bns/General/DauchPresser_101006PM.wmv

Purdue's Nobel Prize afternoon news (Japanese) conference: mms://video.dis.purdue.edu/bns/General/DauchPresser_101006PMJapanese.wmv