“Great science changes the way we think about things – either through the techniques used, the findings themselves, the products that emerge or even in how we interact with the world and those around us. Importantly, it also allows us to reflect on the incredible people involved in this work and how they have achieved their results,” said Dr. Helen Pain, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Professor Sharpless won the prize for the development of the concept of ‘click’ chemistry – a method of synthesizing larger molecules by combining smaller ‘modular’ chemicals together like how Lego bricks might ‘click’ together.
Click reactions occur quickly and irreversibly, with minimal by-products created. Click chemistry was first fully described in 2001 and today it is used across all the sciences that use chemistry – chemical biology, drug discovery, materials science, polymer chemistry and more.
Sharpless first described click chemistry in 2001 when he and his Scripps Research colleagues Hartmuth Kolb and M.G. Finn published their work on click chemistry and its utility in the journal “Angewandte Chemie.” Since then, Sharpless has continued to discover click-chemistry reactions, most recently an amine-to-azide reaction that was published in “Nature” in 2019.
Successful Chemistry Career Mentor
Before his innovations in click chemistry, Sharpless initially made a name for himself in the 1980s for innovations in a form of chemistry called asymmetric (“chiral”) catalysis — a challenging approach to molecule-building that has proved useful in drug development.
The work in chiral chemistry caught the eye of Sir Barton himself, who became a mentor to Sharpless and encouraged his work. In 1997, Sharpless was selected to deliver the inaugural Barton lecture at Texas A&M where the British chemist finished his career before he died the following year.
“It is indeed a great honor to receive this award named for my career-long scientific role model and mentor, Sir Derek Barton,” Sharpless said.
Sharpless’ work in chiral catalysis was given the ultimate recognition when he was awarded a share of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In addition to receiving an actual gold medal, the Royal Society of Chemistry award also includes a cash prize of £3,000 (about $3,680) and a special award dinner in London.
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Prizes portfolio is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world, recognizing achievements by individuals, teams and organizations in advancing the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. In 2019, the organization announced an overhaul to its portfolio designed to better reflect modern scientific work and culture. The Research and Innovation Prizes celebrate achievements of individuals across industry and academia and include prizes for those at different career stages in general chemistry and for those working in specific fields, as well as interdisciplinary prizes and prizes for those in specific roles.
The Royal Society of Chemistry was founded in London in 1841. Today, the organization has an international membership of over 50,000 and uses surplus from its global publishing and knowledge business to give chemical scientists and educators support and resources.
CEO: Peter Shultz
Business: Medical and scientific research institute
Headquarters: La Jolla
Employees: Over 2,400
Revenue: Over $320 million (2020)
Notable: Scripps Research faculty also boasts 30 members in the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering – including Professor Sharpless.