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In the 1960s and 1970s, three scientists, working independently, developed closely related methods for creating complex carbon-based molecules, helping to set the stage for a revolution in the development and synthesis of medicines. In October their seminal contribution to modern organic chemistry was honored with the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences hailed Richard F. Heck, Akira Suzuki, and Ei-ichi Negishi Gr’63 for developing a tool that “has vastly improved the possibilities for chemists to create sophisticated chemicals, for example carbon-based molecules as complex as those created by nature itself.”

Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling, as the techniques are known, solved the thorny problem of binding carbon atoms, which do not easily react with one another. Previous methods relied on reactions that filled test tubes with too many unwanted byproducts for complex molecules to be created. 

Negishi, who was a PhD student of professor Alan Day at Penn in the 1950s, is currently the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, where he has spent most of his career.–T.P.

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