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Three Share 2010 Chemistry Nobel

Three scientists shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing techniques to synthesize complex carbon molecules including medicines.

The winners are Richard F. Heck, 79, a retired University of Delaware professor now living in the Philippines; Ei-ichi Negishi, 75, a chemistry professor at Purdue University; and Akira Suzuki, 80, a professor at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the three scientists, who will split the $1.4 million prize, each independently made advances in using the metal palladium as a catalyst to link together carbon molecules into larger, more complicated structures.

Dr. Negishi said an early-morning phone call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobels, did not catch him completely by surprise. “There have been some people who have been mumbling about that,” he said during a Webcast news conference following the announcement, “and I began thinking of this and that.”

Drugs, plastics and many other industrial chemicals consist of large carbon-based molecules. However, getting one carbon atom is bind to another is often not an easy task. Nearly a century ago, a French chemist named Victor Grignard found that coupling a magnesium atom to a carbon atom pushed additional electrons to the carbon atom, making it easier to bond with another carbon atom.

That method worked, but not always perfectly, sometimes producing too many unwanted byproducts.

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