News archive 2002
King's chemist wins top European prize08 Jan 2002, PR 02/02
One of the two 2001 Descartes Prizes has been won by a team of scientists led by Dr Michael North of King’s College London.
Their entry was selected from over 80 proposals and was awarded €300,000.
Entitled Development of new asymmetric catalysts for chemical manufacturing, the project has finally solved the ongoing challenge faced by chemists – that of producing only the desired ‘hand’ of a chemical.
The significance of this discovery is that it will provide cost savings for the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries as well as reducing the amount of chemical waste produced. This will have a knock-on effect for consumers in terms of the cost and quality of these products. The process can be applied to many different potential pharmaceuticals and is currently being commercialised by a leading fine-chemicals manufacturer.
Dr Michael North, Reader in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, King’s College London, said, “I am delighted to win this prize which is welcome international recognition of the quality and importance of the work being carried out within both my research group and those of my partners.”
Regarded as the premier European prize for collaborative research, entries came from a wide range of scientific fields including basic science, earth science, engineering, life sciences and socio-economic sciences. The other project to win the Prize was on AIDS, lead by Professor Balzarini (KU, Leuven, Belgium). Of the seven projects shortlisted for the Prize, two were in the field of chemistry and both included academics from King’s College London.
Dr North’s prize adds to other recent King’s Department of Chemistry successes including Head of Department, Professor Mike Robb’s FRS last year; Dr Helen Fielding (Reader in Physical Chemistry) becoming the first woman to win the prestigious Marlow Medal (2001) from the Royal Society of Chemistry and being awarded an Advanced Fellowship from the EPSRC and Dr Carolyn Koh (Reader in Inorganic Chemistry) winning the Young Scientist Award 2001 from the British Association for Crystal Growth.
Notes to editors
King's College London
King’s is one of the two oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with some 12,200 undergraduate students and over 4,500 postgraduates in ten schools of study. It is in the top group of five universities for research earnings and has an annual turnover of £285 million and research income from grants and contracts in excess of £80 million (1999-2000).
The Descartes Prize-winning team 2001
Development of new asymmetric catalysts for chemical manufacturing:
Many chemicals can be considered as if they had a particular form like a ‘hand’. Whilst one ‘hand’ of a given chemical may have a certain desired effect, the other - its mirror image - may have no effect at all, or worse, have a severely detrimental effect (eg, Thalidomide). Producing only the desired ‘hand’ of a chemical posed a constant challenge to chemists. Traditional means of dealing with this problem are wasteful and costly.
This project has made a major contribution to the development of catalysts capable of producing the desired ‘hand’ of the product in large excess of the undesired ‘hand’ – so-called asymmetric catalysts. So far it has resulted in the discovery of 50 new catalysts, one of which has already been patented and is the subject of licensing negotiations with a major European fine-chemicals manufacturer.
The team was led by Dr Michael North of King’s in association with Professor Belokon and Dr Rozenberg of the Institute of Organo-element Compounds, Moscow, Russia; Dr Saghiyan of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Ministry of Industry, Erevan, Armenia; Professor Kagan of the University of Paris-Sud, Paris, France; Dr Brown of Oxford University, Oxford, UK; and Dr Borner of the Max-Planck Institute for Catalysis, Rostock, Germany.
The Descartes Prize
The Prize is named in honour of one of Europe’s greatest figures of learning, René Descartes: mathematician, natural scientist and philosopher. It is awarded to research teams who have obtained exceptional results from European collaborative research. The prize is open to all fields of scientific endeavour and is in its second year. The Descartes Prize aims to raise awareness of the scientific achievements of European scientists, highlighting the benefits of working together and the importance of the results achieved.
Proposals for the Descartes Prize 2002 are now invited and the deadline is 15 March 2002.
Photographs of Dr Michael North with his prize are available.
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