Retired chemist Yves Chauvin expressed "embarrassment, not joy" and fretted that his quiet life may be over after he was named a corecipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize in chemistry with two Americans on Wednesday.
"It is a reaction of embarrassment but not of joy," Chauvin told a small group of reporters who almost had to force their way into his plush apartment in Tours. "I had a quiet life, now I see that that is no longer the case."
The 74-year-old noted that the research for which he was rewarded was done "35 years ago and so I have had time to digest it." He praised fellow winners Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock. The trio won for their development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis a way to rearrange groups of atoms within molecules that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences likened to a dance in which couples change partners.
The process is used in the chemical and biotechnology industries to develop stronger plastics and drugs to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis, the academy said.
"I knew that my research was important. I opened the way, but it is my American colleagues who also worked on my research who are enabling me to get this prize today," said Chauvin, reports ABS SBN.
The prize winners will share the $1.28 million award equally. It will be presented along with a medal and diploma by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in a ceremony in Stockholm Dec. 10.
The award recognized work by all three on metathesis (met-TATH-uh-sis), an important chemical reaction. "Metathesis is an example of how important basic science has been applied for the benefit of man, society and the environment," the academy said in its announcement.
The scientists' work "really has had a tremendous impact and is now used in labs everywhere," says chemist Ronald Breslow of Columbia University. "And it taught us a lot of new chemistry really one of those rare things that is both tremendously useful and tremendously interesting."
The academy noted that manufacturers widely use the reaction; applications are as diverse as the manufacture of drugs to the production of sports clothing.
Discovered in the 1950s, metathesis allows chemists to custom-make carbon compounds the building blocks of plastics as well as of living things in fewer steps and with less waste.
Chauvin first explained the chemical recipe for the reaction in a 1971 paper that showed how some metal catalysts in theory could trigger the reaction. Rather than going through many steps, these catalysts quickly swapped carbon molecules with other carbon compounds, he found, in a way chemists had never before considered possible, informs USA Today.