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Benjamin List

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2021

Benjamin List is a German chemist who was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on asymmetric organocatalysis. He shared the prize with British chemist David MacMillan.

Prof List received a degree in chemistry from the Free University of Berlin in 1993 and a doctorate in the same subject from the Goethe University of Frankfurt in 1997. That year he started a postdoctoral fellowship at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. He became an assistant professor there in 1998. He returned to Germany in 2003 to become a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, Mülheim an der Ruhr, and in 2005 he became director of the institute.

During Prof List’s time at Scripps, he was researching catalytic antibodies, which are antibodies that, instead of fighting off infection, are used to drive chemical reactions (that is, act as a catalyst). Prof List considered that enzymes also drive chemical reactions but were not metals as other catalysts were and that only a few amino acids in an enzyme would be involved in the chemical reaction. In 2000 he and his colleagues published work describing how they used one amino acid, proline, to drive an aldol reaction (a reaction in which a bond is formed between two carbon atoms) between acetone and several aromatic aldehydes. (MacMillan and his colleagues were doing similar work independently at the same time.)

In 2003 he returned to Germany to become a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, and in 2005 he became one of the institute's directors, heading the Homogeneous Catalysis Department. He served as the institute's managing director from 2012 to 2014. He has held a part-time position as an honorary professor of organic chemistry at the University of Cologne since 2004. Prof List is also a principal investigator at the Institute for Chemical Reaction Design and Discovery, Hokkaido University since 2018. He is also the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Synlett.