Princeton’s David MacMillan receives Nobel Prize in chemistry

The Office of Communications | Princeton University

“David MacMillan is a brilliant chemist whose transformative insights and accomplishments have enhanced the power of organic chemistry to benefit human health and address other practical problems,” said University President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “He is also a faculty leader who during his time at Princeton has worked with colleagues to build this University’s Department of Chemistry into one of the world’s best. All of us at Princeton are thrilled to celebrate this well-deserved honor.”

MacMillan, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, is the department’s first faculty member to be awarded a Nobel Prize. He shares the award with Benjamin List of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.

“Building molecules is a difficult art. Benjamin List and David MacMillan are awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry 2021 for their development of a precise new tool for molecular construction: organocatalysis. This has had a great impact on pharmaceutical research, and has made chemistry greener,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted in announcing the award today. The prize amount is 10 million Swedish kroner, or about $1.14 million, split between the two laureates.

MacMillan is an innovator, pursuing radically new concepts in catalysis. Today the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences highlighted his work in organocatalysis, finding revolutionary ways to design and build small organic molecules in order to drive chemical reactions. He is also a leader in the field of photoredox catalysis, which uses light — ordinary, visible light — to break and rejoin atomic bonds, one electron at a time.

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