Credit: University of Glasgow

UofG alumni wins Nobel prize

By Ollie Rudden

David MacMillan wins the 2021 Nobel prize in chemistry alongside Benjamin List for his work on organic catalysts.

An alumni from the University of Glasgow has been awarded the 2021 Nobel prize for his work in chemistry.

David MacMillan, who studied his undergraduate degree in chemistry at UofG, was jointly awarded the prize alongside Benjamin List by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for their work in developing a new tool for molecular construction known as organocatalysis.

MacMillian and List were awarded the Nobel prize 2021 for their development, (independent of each other), of a third type of catalyst called asymmetric organocatalysis which builds upon small organic molecules. Previously it was long believed among chemists that metals and enzymes were the only types of catalysts available.

Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry said: “This concept for catalysis is as simple as it is ingenious, and the fact is that many people have wondered why we didn’t think of it earlier”. 

Organic catalysts are also environmentally friendly and cheap to produce as they have a stable framework of carbon atoms and contain common elements as oxygen and nitrogen. 

This development has come a long way since 2000 with MacMillian remaining a key figure in organocatalysts, showing alongside List that organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions. This has made it more efficient for researchers to construct new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.

Professor Justin Hargreaves, Head of the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow gave a huge congratulations to MacMillan and List for receiving the Nobel award, saying: “We’re particularly thrilled for David, who undertook an undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of Glasgow. This makes him the fifth Nobel laureate in Chemistry associated with UofG.”

After graduating from UofG, David MacMillan undertook his doctoral studies in the United States in 1990 at the University of California, Irvine, earning his PhD in 1996. He has been a professor of chemistry at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, USA since 2006.

Other UofG graduates to have won the Nobel prize in chemistry include William Ramsay in 1904 for the discovery of inert gasses and Sir Alexander Todd in 1957 for nucleotides and co-enzymes. 


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments