2018 Physical Science PrizeBACK

Dawei MA, Xiaoming FENG, Qilin ZHOU

For inventing new catalysts and chemical reactions, which opened avenues for synthesizing organic molecules, especially pharmaceutical molecules.

The development of new reactions and synthetic strategies for making molecules is a cornerstone of modern chemistry and molecular sciences. Chemists’ ability to make various molecules have transformed myriad of fields (drug discovery, perfume industry, materials sciences, and genomics) and have advanced our understanding of both the physical and life sciences at the molecular level. While numerous modes of bond breaking and forming have been discovered in the past 100 years, orchestrating these synthetic transformations in a highly selective and efficient manner and on a practical level hinges upon the invention of highly effective catalysts that can accelerate bond breaking and forming processes while conferring desired regioselectivity and enantioselectivity.  

Based on rational molecular design and intuitive innovation, Drs. Ma, Zhou and Feng have developed transformative catalysts that have facilitated or changed the way we construct molecules. Dr. Ma discovered a copper/amino acid complex catalyst that promotes carbon-nitrogen bond formation, providing a widely used tool for synthesizing aniline-based drug molecules [1]. Dr. Zhou designed a chiral spirocyclic ligand that can coordinate a range of metals including iridium and rhodium. The resulting catalysts enhance the enantioselectivity of asymmetric hydrogenation reactions [2]. Dr. Feng designed a chiral N,N-dioxide scaffold that can serve as a catalyst alone or as a ligand to metals, serving as chiral Lewis acid catalysts to promote enantioselective carbon-carbon bond forming reactions [3]. These three catalytic systems, bearing the names of the three chemists recognized here, have been used world-wide in both academia and industry.

[1] Acc. Chem. Res. 2008, 41, 1450.

[2] Acc. Chem. Res. 2008, 41, 581.

[3] Acc. Chem. Res. 2011, 44, 574.

Dawei Ma, born 1963 in Henan, China. Ph.D. 1989 from Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor and Vice President of Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Qilin Zhou, born 1957 in Jiangsu, China. Ph.D. 1987 from Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor of Nankai University.

Xiaoming Feng, born 1964 in Sichuan, China. Ph.D. 1996 from Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor of Sichuan University.