Benjamin List was sitting unsuspecting with his wife at breakfast in a café in Amsterdam. The chemist is on vacation and was at a concert the evening before. In the days of the Nobel Prize, his wife sometimes joked that it was definitely “Sweden” when the phone rang.
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But this Wednesday they hadn’t thought of it at all. “And then suddenly Sweden blinked on my phone,” says the 53 – year-old chemist. “It was just wonderful, a very special moment that I will never forget.”
Together with David MacMillan, List received this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Years ago 21 they had independently developed a new type of chemical catalyst. These are based on small organic molecules and are important, for example, in pharmaceutical research and for more environmentally friendly chemistry.
Second Nobel Prize for Germany this year
For Germany it is the second Nobel Prize within two days after the German climate researcher Klaus Hasselmann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday. It is also important because List is awarded to a researcher who has decided to go to Germany after a long research stay in the USA.
Like Hasselmann, who, like List, worked at the Scripps Research Institute for several years La Jolla in California – only to return to Germany after all: two successful counter-designs to the much-invoked brain drain of German researchers. Chemists from Germany in particular are successful. In the meantime 30 of the total 87 German Nobel Prizes went to the subject.
For Benjamin List, the award is at least as important as it is for Germany as a location for science. The price now opens up even greater scientific freedom for him, he says. “I always wanted to go to extremes, to make the impossible possible.”
List still wants to discover many amazing things
The award – List shares the prize money with MacMillan of around 985. 000 Euro – now give him more freedom than he already has as a Max Planck researcher. Now he hopes to be able to discover many more amazing things. “That is ultimately my goal.”
Benjamin List was born in Frankfurt am Main, he studied chemistry at the Free University of Berlin and was 1997 PhD from Johann Mulzer at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. After six years of research in the USA, List 2003 first became a working group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr, and he became its director in July 2005 became.
“The real revolution is only happening now”
Already 21 It has been years since List discovered these new types of catalysts. That it took so long for this discovery to be recognized is also due to the fact that these catalysts were initially around were a million times less efficient than they are today.
“The real revolution in our discoveries is only happening now that we have these extremely reactive organocatalysts that can do things that use enzymes or even the best Metal complexes are impossible, “explains List.
The chemist had initially not seen the importance of his discovery. List thought he was working on it alone, but knew nothing of MacMillan’s work in Kal ifornien. He didn’t know what would become of the experiment either, thought it might be a stupid idea. “But when I saw that it worked, I already had the feeling that it could be something big.”