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Profiles in Badassery: Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki

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This guy has won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I once got an A in AP Chemistry in high school. he is much smarter than me.
This guy has won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I once got an A in AP Chemistry in high school. he is much smarter than me.

Today we have a very special double Profile in Badassery. It is not often that I can sync these up with actual current events, especially since people like John Purdue and Ray Ewry have the noticeable handicap of being dead. Today in Sweden, however, we have what amounts to an official Coronation in Badassery as Purdue professor and chemist Ei-ichi Negishi and former researcher Akira Suzuki will receive the Nobel  Prize in Chemistry.

The Nobel Prize has long been considered one of the highest professional honors you can achieve. They only hand out six every year in the categories of Peace, Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Economics, and Literature. While I'm certain that all of you will immediately petition to have me as a candidate for next year's prize in literature, this is about the here and now.

Each winner gets a medal made out of 23 karat gold, a diploma, and about $1.4 million (split if there are multiple winners). A little known perk is that each winner gets free drinks at every bar in Sweden, pictures with the famous Swedish Bikini team, and a personal valet for life from said bikini team.

Negishi and Suzuki are only Purdue's sixth and seventh Nobel laureates. They join Vernon L. Smith, Julian Schwinger, and Herbert C. Brown as winners from Purdue's faculty. Edward Mills Purcell and Ben Roy Mottelson have won as alumni.

Officially, Suzuki and Negishi are being award the Nobel Prize along with Richard C. Heck for something called palladium catalyzed cross-couplings in organic synthesis. I am not even going to pretend that I understand what this means. It could be something in my morning coffee for all I know. Therefore, I will let Wikipedia explain it:

Palladium compounds are used as a catalyst in many coupling reactions, usually as a homogeneous catalyst. Examples include:

Typical palladium catalysts used include the following compounds:

Unoptimized reactions typically use 10-15 mol% of palladium; where optimized, catalyst loadings can be on the order of 0.1 mol % or below. Many exotic ligands and chiral catalysts have been reported, but they are largely not available commercially, and do not find widespread use. Much work is being done on replacing the phosphine ligands with other classes, such as Arduengo-type carbene complexes, as the phosphine ligands are typically oxygen sensitive (easily oxidized), and are labile (requiring additional free ligands).

With these reactions becoming ubiquitous, there has been interest in better techniques for removing the palladium catalyst. Metal scavengers such as Smopex[1] or resins such as QuadruPure[2] and ISOLUTE[3] promise more efficient separation than ordinary column chromatography.

I am sure to you chemistry folks from Purdue this makes sense, but this liberal arts major had his eyes pretty much glaze over in confusion by about the second paragraph. We each have our own area of expertise, as I don't know if Negishi and Suzuki could understand the process of breaking down a 2-3 zone.

Negishi has long been a decorated chemist in his field. He has been a post-doc researcher at Purdue since 1966 where he worked with Herbert C. Brown. He has also won the 2000 Sir Edward Frankland Prize Lectureship, the 2010 Person of Cultural Merit, and the 2010 Order of Culture. Suzuki also worked a post-doc with Brown at Purdue in the ‘60s. He has won all the same awards as Negishi except for a 2004 Japan Academy Prize instead of the Sir Edward Frankland Prize. Both were influenced greatly by Brown, who was Professor Emeritus from 1978 until his death in 2004 at age 92.

Really, I don't think I can do these guys any more justice than to suggest you go read about their work online. I can't even pretend to understand it, but I do know that it is a huge honor for them to be selected as Nobel laureates. It is almost a lifetime achievement award, and today's Coronation in Badassery is well deserved.

FYI, there ceremony will be webcast.