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Press Release No. 41 | 6 October 2021
DFG Congratulates Benjamin List on Winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry

2016 Leibniz Prize winner jointly honoured with David W. C. MacMillan from the United Kingdom for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) congratulates Professor Dr. Benjamin List on being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2021. The researcher from the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohleforschung in Mülheim, Germany, receives this year’s award jointly with his British colleague David W. C. MacMillan for their respective contributions to the development of asymmetric organic catalysis, which accelerates chemical reactions. This helps in the production of pharmaceuticals and makes numerous manufacturing processes more environment-friendly.

DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker said: “The DFG congratulates Benjamin List, who has established an entirely new field of catalysis and catalysis research. We previously honoured this groundbreaking achievement by awarding him the DFG’s Leibniz Prize in 2016.”

List was already awarded the Leibniz Prize for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis. He discovered the proline-catalysed intermolecular aldol reaction when he was a young assistant professor. This was one of the foundations for organocatalysis, which for the first time allowed natural products, rather than metal catalysts, to be used as catalysts in the manufacture of chemical products and other key industrial technologies. Benjamin List recognised the outstanding importance of this research direction early on and launched the DFG priority programme “Organocatalysis” as programme coordinator. Organic catalysts are usually less toxic than standard metal catalysts and are also easily recoverable, thereby contributing significantly to more sustainable and resource-efficient chemistry. In addition to novel organocatalysts and organocatalytic reactions, List also discovered and developed fundamentally new principles for asymmetric catalysis and organo-textile catalysis. The latter have the potential to help to treat water in places where people are cut off from the water supply, for example.

Benjamin List is the tenth winner of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, established by the DFG in 1985, to go on to receive the Nobel Prize – following Hartmut Michel (Chemistry, 1988), Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann (Medicine, 1991), Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Medicine, 1995), Theodor Hänsch (Physics, 2005), Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry, 2007), Stefan Hell (Chemistry, 2014), Reinhard Genzel (Physics, 2020) and Emmanuelle Charpentier (Chemistry, 2020).

Further Information

Video portrait of Benjamin List marking the award of the Gottfried Leibniz Wilhelm Prize 2016:

Further information on Benjamin List’s DFG-funded research projects:

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