STOCKHOLM (CBS/AP) — Three U.S.-based scientists won this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for developing powerful computer models that others can use to understand complex chemical interactions and create new drugs.
Research in the 1970s by Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or photosynthesis in green leaves, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. That kind of knowledge makes it possible to optimize catalysts for cars or design drugs and solar cells.
“This year’s prize is about taking the chemical experiment to cyberspace,” said Staffan Normark, the academy’s secretary.
Karplus, an 83-year-old U.S. and Austrian citizen, is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. The academy said Levitt, 66, is a British, U.S., and Israeli citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel, 72, is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Warshel told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone that he was “extremely happy” to have been woken up in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he had won the prize and looks forward to collecting it in the Swedish capital in December.
“In short, what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does,” Warshel said.
When scientists wanted to simulate complex chemical processes on computers, they used to have to choose between software that was based on classical Newtownian physics or ones based on quantum physics. But the academy said the three laureates developed computer models that “opened a gate between these two worlds.”